[ jeen ]
/ dʒin /
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the basic physical unit of heredity; a linear sequence of nucleotides along a segment of DNA that provides the coded instructions for synthesis of RNA, which, when translated into protein, leads to the expression of hereditary character.
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Origin of gene

1911; <German Gen (1909), apparently abstracted from -gen-gen; introduced by Danish geneticist Wilhelm L. Johannsen (1857–1927)


genes , jeans

Other definitions for gene (2 of 2)

[ jeen ]
/ dʒin /

a male given name, form of Eugene.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is a gene?

A gene is a sequence of nucleotides along a strand of DNA that a cell nucleus uses to produce proteins. Genes determine the specific traits of an organism.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a large molecule that is shaped like a double helix sometimes described as a twisty ladder. The rungs of the ladder are made of molecules called nucleotides. These rungs, or bases, are arranged in a specific order that creates a set of instructions, which is known as a gene.

When the body needs to do something or build something, it often requires a protein. Genes are the instructions that the cells read for how to build proteins. Proteins have very specific jobs, so scientists name genes based on what job their linked proteins are designed to do. For example, hair proteins come from hair genes, while eye proteins come from eye genes.

Every living organism has genes. Animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and even the humble amoeba all have genes. The more closely related two organisms are, the more similar their genes will be. For example a dog and a wolf, which are from the same genus, will have similar genes, while a dog and a human, which are not part of the same genus, will have much different genes from each other.

Why is gene important?

The first records of the word gene come from around 1911. It comes from the German Gen, which appears to come from the suffix gen, which means “that which produces.” Genes are the instructions that produce all of the different traits that living things have.

An offspring inherits its genes from its parents. Humans and other animals have two sets of genes: one from their mother and one from their father. For example, your mother may have given you the brown eye gene and your father gave you the blue eye gene. Which eye color you will show depends on which one is the dominant gene and which one is the recessive gene. Because dominant genes take priority over recessive genes, a recessive gene will only be seen if you receive that gene from both your parents.

Genes play a big part in how we label and separate living things. Obviously, we know that a kangaroo has very different genes from a mushroom, but we’ll separate two different species of spiders from each other, for example, with smaller differences in genes.

Did you know … ?

Rarely, two closely related species can produce a hybrid animal. For example, a mule is a hybrid of a donkey and a horse, while a liger is the hybrid of a lion and a tiger. However, these offspring can almost never reproduce and usually die very quickly because their two sets of genes are incompatible with each other.

What are real-life examples of gene?

Genes are a fascinating part of science. Because we are still learning about them, many people often assume genes are more responsible for our behavior than they actually are.

What other words are related to gene?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Only animals have genes in their DNA.

How to use gene in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for gene (1 of 2)

/ (dʒiːn) /

a unit of heredity composed of DNA occupying a fixed position on a chromosome (some viral genes are composed of RNA). A gene may determine a characteristic of an individual by specifying a polypeptide chain that forms a protein or part of a protein (structural gene); or encode an RNA molecule; or regulate the operation of other genes or repress such operationSee also operon

Word Origin for gene

C20: from German Gen, shortened from Pangen; see pan-, -gen

British Dictionary definitions for gene (2 of 2)


suffix forming nouns
a variant of -gen
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for gene

[ jēn ]

A segment of DNA, occupying a specific place on a chromosome, that is the basic unit of heredity. Genes act by directing the production of RNA, which determines the synthesis of proteins that make up living matter and are the catalysts of all cellular processes. The proteins that are determined by genetic DNA result in specific physical traits, such as the shape of a plant leaf, the coloration of an animal's coat, or the texture of a person's hair. Different forms of genes, called alleles, determine how these traits are expressed in a given individual. Humans are thought to have 20,000 to 25,000 genes; bacteria have between 500 and 6,000. See also dominant recessive. See Note at Mendel.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for gene


A portion of a DNA molecule that serves as the basic unit of heredity. Genes control the characteristics that an offspring will have by transmitting information in the sequence of nucleotides on short sections of DNA.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.