In biology, the word gene (from Greek: γένος, génos; meaning generation or birth or gender) can have several different meanings. The Mendelian gene is a basic unit of heredity and the molecular gene is a sequence of nucleotides in DNA that is transcribed to produce a functional RNA. There are two types of molecular genes: protein-coding genes and noncoding genes.
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During gene expression, the DNA is first copied into RNA. The RNA can be directly functional or be the intermediate template for a protein that performs a function. (Some viruses have an RNA genome so the genes are made of RNA that may function directly without being copied into RNA. This is an exception to the strict definition of a gene described above.)
The transmission of genes to an organism's offspring is the basis of the inheritance of phenotypic traits. These genes make up different DNA sequences called genotypes. Genotypes along with environmental and developmental factors determine what the phenotypes will be. Most biological traits are under the influence of polygenes (many different genes) as well as gene–environment interactions. Some genetic traits are instantly visible, such as eye color or the number of limbs, and some are not, such as blood type, the risk for specific diseases, or the thousands of basic biochemical processes that constitute life.
A gene can acquire mutations in their sequence, leading to different variants, known as alleles, in the population. These alleles encode slightly different versions of a gene, which may cause different phenotypical traits. Usage of the term "having a gene" (e.g., "good genes," "hair color gene") typically refers to containing a different allele of the same, shared gene. Genes evolve due to natural selection / survival of the fittest and genetic drift of the alleles.
The term gene was introduced by Danish botanist, plant physiologist and geneticist Wilhelm Johannsen in 1909. It is inspired by the Ancient Greek: γόνος, gonos, that means offspring and procreation.