The Chromosomal Theory of inheritance, proposed by Sutton and Boveri, states that chromosomes are the vehicles of genetic heredity. Neither Mendelian genetics nor gene linkage is perfectly accurate; instead, chromosome behavior involves segregation, independent assortment, and occasionally, linkage. Sturtevant devised a method to assess recombination frequency and infer the relative positions and distances of linked genes on a chromosome on the basis of the average number of crossovers in the intervening region between the genes. Sturtevant correctly presumed that genes are arranged in serial order on chromosomes and that recombination between homologs can occur anywhere on a chromosome with equal likelihood. Whereas linkage causes alleles on the same chromosome to be inherited together, homologous recombination biases alleles toward an inheritance pattern of independent assortment.
The number, size, shape, and banding pattern of chromosomes make them easily identifiable in a karyogram and allows for the assessment of many chromosomal abnormalities. Disorders in chromosome number, or aneuploidies, are typically lethal to the embryo, although a few trisomic genotypes are viable. Because of X inactivation, aberrations in sex chromosomes typically have milder phenotypic effects. Aneuploidies also include instances in which segments of a chromosome are duplicated or deleted. Chromosome structures may also be rearranged, for example by inversion or translocation. Both of these aberrations can result in problematic phenotypic effects. Because they force chromosomes to assume unnatural topologies during meiosis, inversions and translocations are often associated with reduced fertility because of the likelihood of nondisjunction.