The expression of genes in an organism can be influenced by the environment, including the external world in which the organism is located or develops, as well as the organism's internal world, which includes such factors as its hormones and metabolism. One major internal environmental influence that affects gene expression is gender, as is the case with sex-influenced and sex-limited traits. Similarly, drugs, chemicals, temperature, and light are among the external environmental factors that can determine which genes are turned on and off, thereby influencing the way an organism develops and functions.
Sex-Influenced and Sex-Limited Traits
Sex-influenced traits are those that are expressed differently in the two sexes. Such traits are autosomal, which means that the genes responsible for their expression are not carried on the sex chromosomes. An example of a sex-influenced trait is male-pattern baldness. The baldness allele, which causes hair loss, is influenced by the hormones testosterone and dihydrotestosterone, but only when levels of the two hormones are high. In general, males have much higher levels of these hormones than females, so the baldness allele has a stronger effect in males than in females. However, high levels of stress can lead to expression of the gene in women. In stressful situations, women's adrenal glands can produce testosterone and convert it into dihydrotestosterone, which can result in hair loss.
Sex-limited traits are also autosomal. Unlike sex-influenced traits, whose expression differs according to sex, sex-limited traits are expressed in individuals of only one sex. An example of a sex-limited trait is lactation, or milk production. Although the genes for producing milk are carried by both males and females, only lactating females express these genes.
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