ⓘ Genetic drift is a random effect on biological populations. Its effect is to remove genetic variation from a population of living organisms. In natural populati ..

Genetic drift

ⓘ Genetic drift

Genetic drift is a random effect on biological populations. Its effect is to remove genetic variation from a population of living organisms.

In natural populations there are a number of forces acting. There are forces which add heritable variation to the population, such as mutation and recombination. There are also factors which remove variation from the population, and drift is one of these.


1. Overview

In a species, or an interbreeding population, there is usually a great deal of genetic variation. This genetic variation is in the form of different alleles at many loci gene positions on the chromosomes.

Changes in allele frequency are mainly caused by natural selection, that is, by differential survival, and contribution to the next generation. But as populations get smaller, there is a tendency for each generation to become more homozygous, with less variety of alleles. This is an effect similar to inbreeding: it leads to genetic uniformity.

Genetic drift is the name given to this loss of variation. It can affect evolution in surprisingly big ways, but only when populations are quite small. What small means would depend on the organism. 50 individuals is small, 5000 is not, 500 is maybe. The basic mechanism of drift is that genetic variety is reduced by chance, making the individuals more similar to each other, and hence more vulnerable.

  • Founder events: these occur when a small group buds off from a larger population. The small group then lives separately from the main population. The human species is often quoted as having been through such stages, for example, when groups left Africa to set up elsewhere see human evolution. Apparently, we have less variation than would be expected from our worldwide distribution. Groups that arrive on islands far from the mainland are also good examples. These groups, by virtue of their small size, cannot carry the full range of alleles to be found in the parent population.
  • Drift reduces genetic variation in populations, potentially reducing a population’s ability to survive new selective pressures.
  • Genetic drift acts faster and has more drastic results in smaller populations. Small populations usually become extinct.
  • Genetic drift may contribute to speciation, if the small group does survive.
  • Bottleneck events: when a large population is suddenly and drastically reduced in size by some event, the genetic variety will be very much reduced. Infections and extreme climate events are frequent causes. Occasionally, invasions by more competitive species can be devastating. ♦ In the 1880/90s, hunting reduced the Northern elephant seal to only about 20 individuals. Although the population has rebounded, its genetic variability is much less than that of the Southern elephant seal. ♦ Cheetahs have very little variation. We think the species was reduced to a small number at some recent time. Because it lacks genetic variation, it is in danger from infectious diseases.
  • degree of inbreeding of members of populations as a result of random genetic drift Together with Fisher, he pioneered methods for calculating the distribution
  • calculations for just such groups, and he called the process genetic drift Genetic drift and inbreeding are closely related concepts. The degree of inbreeding
  • cages in the laboratory. They were interested in natural selection, genetic drift and other aspects of population genetics. In 1989 Diane Dodd gave laboratory
  • natural selection versus genetic drift debate with Sewall Wright, whom Ford believed put too much emphasis on genetic drift It was as a result of Ford s
  • duplication, the extent of adaptive molecular evolution versus neutral genetic drift and the identification of molecular changes responsible for various
  • natural selection small population size where random effects like genetic drift and inbreeding may occur. H W populations are assumed to be infinite
  • Ecological Society. ISBN 0 - 521 - 54936 - 1 Provine W.B. 2014. The random genetic drift fallacy. ISBN 9781500924126. William Provine, history of science scholar
  • ice age. Inbreeding after the event further reduced the variation genetic drift Due to the fact that cheetah never attack and kill humans it was extremely
  • population may drift to prefer one of the peaks, ignoring the others. The reason that the Schema Theorem cannot explain the power of genetic algorithms is