Genetic Drift

The Hardy-Weinberg law assumes random mating in an infinitely large population; only when population size is infinite will the gametes carry genes that perfectly represent the parental gene pool. But no real population is infinitely large, and when population size is limited, the gametes that unite to form individuals of the next generation carry a sample of alleles present in the parental gene pool. Just by chance, the composition of this sample may deviate from that of the parental gene pool, and this deviation may cause allelic frequencies to change. The smaller the gametic sample, the greater the chance that its composition will deviate from that of the entire gene pool.

The role of chance in altering allelic frequencies is analogous to flipping a coin. Each time we flip a coin, we have a 50% chance of getting a head and a 50% chance of getting a

Population A

Population B

Population A

Population B

Population C

Frequency of a after migration


= qB^BA + qCmCA + qA^-

mBA -



= qAmAB + qCmCB + qB(i-

mAB -



= qA^AC + qB^BC + qCO-

mAC -


23.11 Model of multidirectional migration among three populations, A, B, and C, with initial frequency of allele a equal to qA, qB, and qC, respectively. The proportion of a population made up of migrants from other populations is designated by m, where the subscripts represent the source and recipient populations. For example, mAC represents the proportion of population C that consists of individuals that moved from A to C. The allelic frequencies in populations A, B, and C after migration are represented by q'A q'%, and q'C.

tail. If we flip a coin 1000 times, the observed ratio of heads to tails will be very close to the expected 50:50 ratio. If, however, we flip a coin only 10 times, there is a good chance that we will obtain not exactly 5 heads and 5 tails, but rather maybe 7 heads and 3 tails or 8 tails and 2 heads. This kind of deviation from an expected ratio due to limited sample size is referred to as sampling error.

Sampling error occurs when gametes unite to produce progeny. Many organisms produce a large number of gametes but, when population size is small, a limited number of gametes unite to produce the individuals of the next generation. Chance influences which alleles are present in this limited sample and, in this way, sampling error may lead to changes in allelic frequency, which is called genetic drift. Because the deviations from the expected ratios are random, the direction of change is unpredictable. We can nevertheless predict the magnitude of the changes.

The magnitude of genetic drift The amount of sampling error resulting from genetic drift can be estimated from the variance in allelic frequency. Variance is a statistical measure that describes the degree of variability in a trait (see p. 000 in

Chapter 22). Suppose that we observe a large number of separate populations, each with N individuals and allelic frequencies of p and q. After one generation of random mating, genetic drift expressed in terms of the variance in allelic frequency among the populations (sp2) will be:

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