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Genetic diversity

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Genetic diversity is a characteristic of ecosystems and gene pools that describes an attribute which is commonly held to be advantageous for survival -- that there are many different versions of otherwise similar organisms. For example, the Irish potato famine can be attributed in part to the fact that there were so few different genetic strains of potatoes in the country, making it easier for one virus to infect and kill much of the crop.

The academic field of population genetics includes several hypotheses regarding genetic diversity. The neutral theory of evolution proposes that diversity is the result of the accumulation of neutral substitutions. Diversifying selection is the hypothesis that two subpopulations of a species live in different environments that select for different alleles at a particular locus. This may occur, for instance, if a species has a large range relative to the mobility of individuals within it. Frequency-dependent selection is the hypothesis that as alleles become more common, they become less fit. This is often invoked in host-pathogen interactions, where a high frequency of a defensive allele among the host means that it is more likely that a pathogen will spread if is able to overcome that allele.

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