Genetic Drift

Genetic drift—along with natural selection, mutation, and migration—is one of the basic mechanisms of evolution.

In each generation, some individuals may, just by chance, leave behind a few more descendents (and genes, of course!) than other individuals. The genes of the next generation will be the genes of the “lucky” individuals, not necessarily the healthier or “better” individuals. That, in a nutshell, is genetic drift. It happens to ALL populations—there’s no avoiding the vagaries of chance.

Genetic drift

Earlier we used this hypothetical cartoon. Genetic drift affects the genetic makeup of the population but, unlike natural selection, through an entirely random process. So although genetic drift is a mechanism of evolution, it doesn’t work to produce adaptations.

Explore further
•  Sampling error and evolution
•  Effects of genetic drift
•  Bottlenecks and founder effects

Teach this!
Lesson plans for teaching about genetic drift

Next Topic:
Natural Selection




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Spanish translation of Understanding Evolution For Teachers from the Spanish Society of Evolutionary Biology.