One often hears news reports about discoveries of a “gene for X”, e.g., gene for alcoholism, gene for homosexuality, gene for breast cancer, etc. This is an incorrect way of thinking about genes, as it implies a one-to-one mapping between genes and traits.
This misunderstanding stems from historical precedents. The very first genes were discovered decades ago with quite primitive technology. Thus, the only genes that could be discovered were those with large, dramatic effects on the traits. For instance, a small mutation (change in the sequence of nucleotides) in the gene that codes for RNA that codes for one of the four elements of the hemoglobin protein results in sickle-cell anemia. The red blood cells are, as a result, misshapen and the ability of red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen to the cells is diminished.
Due to such dramatic effects of small mutations, it was believed at the time that each gene codes for a particular trait. Today, it is possible to measure minuscule effects of multiple genes and it is well understood that the “one gene/one trait” paradigm is largely incorrect. Most traits are affected by many genes, and most genes are involved in the development of multiple traits.