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Origins of Genetic Variation

Origins of Genetic Variation

Genetic variation refers to diversity in gene frequencies. Genetic variation can refer to differences between individuals or to differences between populations. Mutation is the ultimate source of genetic variation, but mechanisms such as sexual reproduction and genetic drift contribute to it as well.

Learn more from scientific experts about Evolution /Origins of Genetic Variation at NHGRI's Talking Glossary

Materials for Origins of Genetic Variation


Understanding Evolution

Description: Information and animations for understanding genetic variation


What is Genetic Variation?

Description: Genetic variation is a term used to describe the variation in the DNA sequence in each of our genomes. Genetic variation is what makes us all unique, whether in terms of hair color, skin color or even the shape of our faces.

Interactive Tutorials

Evolution Begins With The Inheritance of Gene Variations

Description: An interactive Web site exploring basic concepts of genetic variation through historic discovery


Description: This web simulation allows students to explore adaptive radiation of a fictitious group of birds called Pollenpeepers over a period of 5 million years.

Variation, Selection, and Time

Description: A rich source of engaging videos, interactive tutorials, and articles on natural selection and genetic variation.

Labs & Experiments

Exploring Mutant Organisms

Description: An evolution and genetic diversity virtual laboratory experiment

NOVA Evolution Lab

Description: Here find virtual laboratory experiments for teens and adults on a variety of topics, including phylogenetics, the study of the evolutionary relationships among species. The labs engage students in solving a series of evolutionary puzzles.

Teacher Resources

Classroom Activities: Battling Beetles (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: A series of activities teaching concepts of natural selection, genetic variation, and evolution

Classroom Activities: Gene Switches (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Teaching materials on evolution and genetic variation with a classroom activity to model a gene switch

Classroom Activities: Variations in the Clam Species Clamys sweetus (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: An activity to engage students in thinking about the mechanism of natural selection

Clipbirds (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This variation on the classic bird beak activity demonstrates variation of beak size within a population and shows how the proportion of big-, medium-, and small-beaked birds changes in response to the available types of food.

Color Variation Over Time in Rock Pocket Mouse Populations (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This activity provides an introduction to natural selection and the role of genetic variation by asking students to analyze illustrations of rock pocket mouse populations (dark/light fur) on different color substrates in the Sonoran Desert (light/dark) over time. Based on this evidence, and what they learn about variation and natural selection in the accompanying short film, students use this evidence to explain the change in the rock pocket mouse populations on the lava flow (dark substrate) over time.

Cystic Fibrosis: Exploration of Evolutionary Explanations for the High Frequency of a Common Disorder (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: An expert authored advanced in-class exercise making and testing hypotheses to explain the high incidence of cystic fibrosis in certain populations

Genes, Variation and Human History (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Interactive classroom activities on genetic variation

Genetic Variation (PDF 492.28 KB, Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: A presentation on genetic variation intended for classroom use

Genetic Variation within the One Human Race (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Through this lesson, students will understand the pattern of genetic variation among humans.

NIH Curriculum Supplements for High School: Human Genetic Variation (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Study the basics of human genetics, its potential to improve human health, and its application toward understanding and describing human evolution through these five lesson plans. Teacher guides are available for download.

Population Genetics (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: In this lesson, students simulate what happens to a population containing sickle cell trait carriers over several generations in the presence of a high, medium, or low incidence of malaria. Students analyze class data to understand trends in each population and the selective forces at play. Students also review and discuss real-world data.

Preserving Health through Biological Diversity (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This lesson advances student understanding of why diversity within and among species is important.


Molecular Basis of Heredity: Part 3. Genetic Variation

Description: Join Raye Lynn Alford, PhD, as she explains the molecular basis of genetic variation, including mechanisms and types of DNA sequence variations, and patterns of inheritance of genetic disorders.

The Making of the Fittest: Evolving Switches, Evolving Bodies

Description: A short film on how stickleback fish have adapted to new environments

Variation, Selection, and Time

Description: A rich source of engaging videos, interactive tutorials, and articles on natural selection and genetic variation.