Article

Population Genetics

Rob Kulathinal

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online May 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0062
Population Genetics

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences

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Population genetics is the study of genetic variation, or allele frequencies, across space and time. The patterns observed among alleles within a population are caused by an interplay of evolutionary forces that includes mutation, migration, selection, and drift. Population geneticists study how these forces change both the genotypic and phenotypic makeup of natural populations, using a variety of empirical and theoretical methods. The field of population genetics originated almost a century ago. Initial attempts to integrate Mendelian genetics with Darwin’s theory of natural selection were difficult due to opposing prevailing viewpoints. Early Mendelians did not perceive the continuous nature of small-effect mutational changes and, thus, did not appreciate the gradualism that neo-Darwinians espoused through natural selection. On the other hand, naturalists, particularly biometricians, did not appreciate the laws of inheritance in discrete Mendelian traits, since much of their world revolved around continuously distributed phenotypic traits. A reconciliation between these diverse perspectives was finally made, and population genetic theory went through an initial phase of rapid development, led primarily by three individuals—Ronald A. Fisher, Sewall Wright, and J. B. S. Haldane—who began to form, independently, its mathematical basis. During this classical phase, the structure of DNA was unknown, and molecular techniques that enabled the evaluation of genetic diversity at the nucleotide level were unavailable; however, much progress was made in understanding allele frequency behavior. When population geneticists began to employ molecular techniques in the 1960s, the field shifted from a predominantly theoretical one to an empirical and applied one. New data from molecular population genetics began to challenge many existing paradigms and provided biologists with a new lens to view the world. Today, the scope of population genetics ranges from ecological modeling to medical genetics to speciation genomics. While population geneticists are still interested in understanding how genetic variation is formed, maintained, and transformed, they are employing an increasingly large arsenal of tools and resources, including sequences of entire genomes.

Article.  6096 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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