A heterozygote advantage (heterozygous advantage) describes the case in which the heterozygote genotype has a higher relative fitness than either the homozygote dominant or homozygote recessive genotype. The specific case of heterozygote advantage due to a single locus is known as overdominance.
Polymorphism can be maintained by selection favoring the heterozygote, and this mechanism is used to explain the occurrence of some kinds of genetic variability. A common example is the case where the heterozygote conveys both advantages and disadvantages, while both homozygotes convey a disadvantage. A well-established case of heterozygote advantage is that of the gene involved in sickle cell anaemia.
Often, the advantages and disadvantages conveyed are rather complicated, because more than one gene may influence a given trait or morph. Major genes almost always have multiple effects (pleiotropism), which can simultaneously convey separate advantageous traits and disadvantageous traits upon the same organism. In this instance, the state of the organism's environment will provide selection, with a net effect either favoring or working in opposition to the gene, until an environmentally determined equilibrium is reached.
Heterozygote advantage is a major underlying mechanism for heterosis, or "hybrid vigor", which is the improved or increased function of any biological quality in a hybrid offspring.
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