Neutral Genetic Variation

  • David B. Neale
  • Nicholas C. Wheeler


Neutral genetic variation is described as that which is unaffected by natural selection. The neutral theory of molecular evolution, proposed in the late 1960s (Kimura 1968; King and Jukes 1969), holds that most genetic variation at the molecular level is evolutionarily neutral, the product of mutation, migration, drift, and mating systems rather than selection. For some time, disagreement over the extent or amount of molecular variation that is “neutral” was featured in the evolutionary literature, labeled as the neutralist/selectionist debate. Ohta (2002) suggested that slightly deleterious mutations can lead to nearly neutral variation, and today’s literature generally uses the descriptor “neutral or nearly neutral” when describing most types of molecular variation. The neutral theory of molecular evolution was formalized in the late 1960s, in part due to recognition of developing technologies that provided scientists with the ability to observe variation at the level of individual genes. The neutral theory continues to be refined (Kimura 1983; Nei 2005, 2013; Nei et al. 2010).


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David B. Neale
    • 1
  • Nicholas C. Wheeler
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  2. 2.ConsultantCentraliaUSA

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