Population Genetics

A population's individuals often display different phenotypes, or express different alleles of a particular gene, which scientists refer to as polymorphisms. We call populations with two or more variations of particular characteristics polymorphic. A number of factors, including the population’s genetic structure and the environment (Figure) influence population variation, the distribution of phenotypes among individuals. Understanding phenotypic variation sources in a population is important for determining how a population will evolve in response to different evolutionary pressures.

 This photo shows four kittens in a basket: two are gray, black, orange, and white, the third cat is orange and white, and the fourth cat is black.
The distribution of phenotypes in this litter of kittens illustrates population variation. (credit: Pieter Lanser)
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