Genetic Variation

George K. Roderick

University of California, Berkeley

The genome, the entire collection of an organism's genetic material, provides the blueprint containing information that dictates all biological forms and functions. Without change, this blueprint would be passed identically to future generations, preserving past genetic structures that have proven to be successful, but also constraining potential future adaptation to new situations. Only when genetic variability is present can processes such as selection, genetic drift, and migration act to change the frequencies of genetic variants and in so doing allow evolution that may lead to adaptation and ultimately even speciation. Thus, understanding genetic variation—its origins, maintenance, and pattern of change— is critical to understanding the diversity of life.

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