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Homology (biology)

A separate article treats homology in mathematics.

In biology, two structures are called homologous if they are alike because of shared ancestry. This could be evolutionary ancestry, meaning that the structures evolved from some structure in a common ancestor (the wings of bats and the arms of humans are homologous in this sense) or developmental ancestry, meaning that the structures arose from the same tissue in embryonal development (the ovaries of females and the testicles of males are homologous in this sense).

Homology has to be distinguished from analogy; for instance, the wings of insects and the wings of birds are analogous but not homologous. These similar structures most likely evolved through different pathways, a process known as convergent evolution.

In genetics, homology is used in reference to protein or DNA sequences, meaning that the given sequences share ancestry. Homology can be of two types: orthology or paralogy. Two sequences are orthologous if they are homologous and were separated by a speciation event; if a gene exists in an organism, and that organism diverges into two species, then the copies of this gene in each of the resulting species are orthologous. Sequences are paralogous if they are homologous and were separated by a gene duplication event; if a gene in an organism is duplicated, each copy of the gene is paralogous.

Homology among proteins and DNA is often concluded on the basis of sequence similarity, especially in bioinformatics. For example, in general, if two genes have an almost identical DNA sequence, it is likely that they are homologous. However, it may be that the sequence similarity did not arise from their sharing a common ancestor; for example, if the sequences are short, they may be similar just by chance. Such sequences are similar but not homologous.

A homologous pair of chromosomes in a diploid cell is a matching pair of chromosomes, one derived from each parent of the organism. Except for the sex chromosomes, the chromosomes of each homologous pair share significant sequence similarity across their entire length, and thus typically contain the same sequence of genes. The sex chromosomes have a shorter region of sequence similarity. Based on the sequence similarity and our knowledge of biology, we can presume that the chromosomes are paralogous.