Genetic variation
Genetic variation, variation in allele
An allele is one of two or more forms of a gene or a genetic locus . "Allel" is an abbreviation of allelomorph. Sometimes, different alleles can result in different observable phenotypic traits, such as different pigmentation...

s of gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

s, occurs both within and among population
A population is all the organisms that both belong to the same group or species and live in the same geographical area. The area that is used to define a sexual population is such that inter-breeding is possible between any pair within the area and more probable than cross-breeding with individuals...

s. Genetic variation is important because it provides the “raw material” for natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

. Genetic variation is brought about by mutation, a change in a chemical structure of a gene. Polyploidy is an example of chromosomal mutation. Polyploidy is a condition wherein organisms have three or more sets of genetic variation (3n or more).

Among individuals within a population

Genetic variation among individuals within a population can be identified at a variety of levels. It is possible to identify genetic variation from observations of phenotypic
A phenotype is an organism's observable characteristics or traits: such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, behavior, and products of behavior...

 variation in either quantitative traits (traits that vary continuously and are coded for by many genes, e.g., leg length in dogs) or discrete traits (traits that fall into discrete categories and are coded for by one or a few genes (e.g., white, pink, red petal color in certain flowers).

Genetic variation can also be identified by examining variation at the level of enzyme
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. In enzymatic reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process, called substrates, are converted into different molecules, called products. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates...

s using the process of protein electrophoresis
Protein electrophoresis
Protein electrophoresis is a method for analysing the proteins in a fluid or an extract. The electrophoresis may be performed with a small volume of sample in a number of alternative ways with or without a supporting medium: SDS polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis Protein electrophoresis is a method...

. Polymorphic genes have more than one allele at each locus. Half of the genes that code for enzymes in insects and plants may be polymorphic, whereas polymorphisms are less common in vertebrates.

Ultimately, genetic variation is caused by variation in the order of bases in the nucleotide
Nucleotides are molecules that, when joined together, make up the structural units of RNA and DNA. In addition, nucleotides participate in cellular signaling , and are incorporated into important cofactors of enzymatic reactions...

s in genes. New technology now allows scientists to directly sequence DNA which has identified even more genetic variation than was previously detected by protein electrophoresis. Examination of DNA has shown genetic variation in both coding regions and in the non-coding intron region of genes.

Genetic variation will result in phenotypic variation if variation in the order of nucleotides in the DNA sequence
DNA sequence
The sequence or primary structure of a nucleic acid is the composition of atoms that make up the nucleic acid and the chemical bonds that bond those atoms. Because nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, are unbranched polymers, this specification is equivalent to specifying the sequence of...

 results in a difference in the order of amino acid
Amino acid
Amino acids are molecules containing an amine group, a carboxylic acid group and a side-chain that varies between different amino acids. The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen...

s in proteins coded by that DNA sequence, and if the resultant differences in amino acid sequence
Peptide sequence
Peptide sequence or amino acid sequence is the order in which amino acid residues, connected by peptide bonds, lie in the chain in peptides and proteins. The sequence is generally reported from the N-terminal end containing free amino group to the C-terminal end containing free carboxyl group...

 influence the shape, and thus the function of the enzyme.

Between populations

Geographic variation in genes often occurs among populations living in different locations. Geographic variation may be due to differences in selective pressures or to genetic drift
Genetic drift
Genetic drift or allelic drift is the change in the frequency of a gene variant in a population due to random sampling.The alleles in the offspring are a sample of those in the parents, and chance has a role in determining whether a given individual survives and reproduces...



Genetic variation within a population is commonly measured as the percentage of gene loci that are polymorphic or the percentage of gene loci in individuals that are heterozygous.


In molecular biology and genetics, mutations are changes in a genomic sequence: the DNA sequence of a cell's genome or the DNA or RNA sequence of a virus. They can be defined as sudden and spontaneous changes in the cell. Mutations are caused by radiation, viruses, transposons and mutagenic...

s are the ultimate source of genetic variation because they alter the order of bases in the nucleotides of DNA. Mutations are likely to be rare and most mutations are neutral or deleterious, but in some instances the new alleles can be favored by natural selection.

Genetic variation can also be produced by the recombination of chromosome
A chromosome is an organized structure of DNA and protein found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing many genes, regulatory elements and other nucleotide sequences. Chromosomes also contain DNA-bound proteins, which serve to package the DNA and control its functions.Chromosomes...

s that occurs during sexual reproduction
Sexual reproduction
Sexual reproduction is the creation of a new organism by combining the genetic material of two organisms. There are two main processes during sexual reproduction; they are: meiosis, involving the halving of the number of chromosomes; and fertilization, involving the fusion of two gametes and the...

, called independent assortment.

Crossing over and random segregation during meiosis can result in the production of new alleles or new combinations of alleles. Furthermore, random fertilization also contributes to variation.

Variation and recombination can be facilitated by transposable and transposed genetic elements, commonly known as endogenous retroviruses, LINEs, SINEs, etc.

Maintenance in populations

A variety of factors maintain genetic variation in populations. Potentially harmful recessive alleles can be hidden from selection in the heterozygous
Zygosity refers to the similarity of alleles for a trait in an organism. If both alleles are the same, the organism is homozygous for the trait. If both alleles are different, the organism is heterozygous for that trait...

 individuals in populations of diploid
Ploidy is the number of sets of chromosomes in a biological cell.Human sex cells have one complete set of chromosomes from the male or female parent. Sex cells, also called gametes, combine to produce somatic cells. Somatic cells, therefore, have twice as many chromosomes. The haploid number is...

 organisms (recessive alleles are only expressed in the less common homozygous
Zygosity refers to the similarity of alleles for a trait in an organism. If both alleles are the same, the organism is homozygous for the trait. If both alleles are different, the organism is heterozygous for that trait...

individuals). Natural selection can also maintain genetic variation in balanced polymorphisms. Balanced polymorphisms may occur when heterozygotes are favored or when selection is frequency dependent.
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