Creative Potential

By itself, drift cannot lead to adaptation. However, drift can enhance the ability of selection to do so. Because of diploidy and sexual recombination, some types of mutations, either singly or in combinations, will increase fitness when common but not when rare. Genetic drift can cause such genetic variants to become sufficiently common for selection to promote their fixation. A likely example is the fixation of new structural arrangements of chromosomes that occurred frequently during the diversification of flowering plants. New chromosome arrangements are usually selected against when they are rare because they disrupt meiosis and reduce fertility. The initial spread of such a mutation can therefore only be caused by strong genetic drift, either in an isolated population of small effective size or in a larger population divided into small neighborhoods.

John S. Heywood

See also: Endangered species; Gene flow; Genetics: mutations; Population genetics; Selection.

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