Human genetic variation

A graphical representation of the typical human karyotype.
The human mitochondrial DNA.

Human genetic variation is the genetic differences in and among populations. There may be multiple variants of any given gene in the human population (alleles), a situation called polymorphism.

No two humans are genetically identical. Even monozygotic twins (who develop from one zygote) have infrequent genetic differences due to mutations occurring during development and gene copy-number variation.[1] Differences between individuals, even closely related individuals, are the key to techniques such as genetic fingerprinting.As of 2017, there are a total of 324 million known variants from sequenced human genomes.[2]As of 2015, the typical difference between the genomes of two individuals was estimated at 20 million base pairs (or 0.6% of the total of 3.2 billion base pairs).[3]

Alleles occur at different frequencies in different human populations. Populations that are more geographically and ancestrally remote tend to differ more. The differences between populations represent a small proportion of overall human genetic variation. Populations also differ in the quantity of variation among their members.The greatest divergence between populations is found in sub-Saharan Africa, consistent with the recent African origin of non-African populations.Populations also vary in the proportion and locus of introgressed genes they received by archaic admixture both inside and outside of Africa.

The study of human genetic variation has evolutionary significance and medical applications. It can help scientists understand ancient human population migrations as well as how human groups are biologically related to one another. For medicine, study of human genetic variation may be important because some disease-causing alleles occur more often in people from specific geographic regions. New findings show that each human has on average 60 new mutations compared to their parents.[4][5]

Causes of variation

Causes of differences between individuals include independent assortment, the exchange of genes (crossing over and recombination) during reproduction (through meiosis) and various mutational events.

There are at least three reasons why genetic variation exists between populations. Natural selection may confer an adaptive advantage to individuals in a specific environment if an allele provides a competitive advantage. Alleles under selection are likely to occur only in those geographic regions where they confer an advantage. A second important process is genetic drift, which is the effect of random changes in the gene pool, under conditions where most mutations are neutral (that is, they do not appear to have any positive or negative selective effect on the organism). Finally, small migrant populations have statistical differences—call the founder effect—from the overall populations where they originated; when these migrants settle new areas, their descendant population typically differs from their population of origin: different genes predominate and it is less genetically diverse.

In humans, the main cause[citation needed] is genetic drift. Serial founder effects and past small population size (increasing the likelihood of genetic drift) may have had an important influence in neutral differences between populations.[citation needed] The second main cause of genetic variation is due to the high degree of neutrality of most mutations. A small, but significant number of genes appear to have undergone recent natural selection, and these selective pressures are sometimes specific to one region.[6][7]