What kinds of genome variations are there?
Genome variations include mutations and polymorphisms. Technically, a polymorphism (a term that comes from the Greek words “poly,” or “many,” and “morphe,” or “form”) is a DNA variation in which each possible sequence is present in at least 1 percent of people. For example, a place in the genome where 93 percent of people have a T and the remaining 7 percent have an A is a polymorphism. If one of the possible sequences is present in less than 1 percent of people (99.9 percent of people have a G and 0.1 percent have a C), then the variation is called a mutation.
Informally, the term mutation is often used to refer to a harmful genome variation that is associated with a specific human disease, while the word polymorphism implies a variation that is neither harmful nor beneficial. However, scientists are now learning that many polymorphisms actually do affect a person’s characteristics, though in more complex and sometimes unexpected ways.
About 90 percent of human genome variation comes in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”). As their name implies, these are variations that involve just one nucleotide, or base. Any one of the four DNA bases may be substituted for any other—an A instead of a T, a T instead of a C, a G instead of an A, and so on.
Theoretically, a SNP could have four possible forms, or alleles, since there are four types of bases in DNA. But in reality, most SNPs have only two alleles. For example, if some people have a T at a certain place in their genome while everyone else has a G, that place in the genome is a SNP with a T allele and a G allele.
The human genome contains more than 2 million SNPs.
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