Mutation vs. Polymorphism

What's the Difference?

Mutation and polymorphism are both genetic variations that occur in organisms. However, they differ in their nature and effects. Mutation refers to a permanent change in the DNA sequence of an organism, which can be caused by various factors such as radiation, chemicals, or errors during DNA replication. Mutations can have significant impacts on an organism's phenotype, potentially leading to the development of new traits or diseases. On the other hand, polymorphism refers to the presence of multiple forms of a gene within a population. These variations are often inherited and can be maintained in a population over time. Polymorphisms can result in different phenotypes, but they are usually less drastic than mutations and may not always have a noticeable effect on an organism's fitness.


DefinitionChanges in the DNA sequence of a gene or chromosomeThe ability of an object to take on many forms or have multiple behaviors
TypeGeneticObject-oriented programming
EffectCan lead to genetic disorders or variations in traitsAllows objects to be used interchangeably, enhancing code reusability and flexibility
CausesErrors during DNA replication, exposure to mutagens, or spontaneous changesImplemented through inheritance, interfaces, and method overriding
ExamplesPoint mutation, frameshift mutation, chromosomal rearrangementMethod overriding, function overloading, interface implementation
ScopePrimarily at the genetic levelPrimarily within the context of object-oriented programming
OccurrenceCan occur naturally or be inducedImplemented intentionally by developers

Further Detail


In the field of genetics, mutation and polymorphism are two important concepts that play a significant role in understanding the diversity and variability of living organisms. While both terms refer to changes in the genetic material, they have distinct attributes and implications. This article aims to compare and contrast the attributes of mutation and polymorphism, shedding light on their definitions, causes, types, and impacts.

Definition and Causes

Mutation refers to a permanent alteration in the DNA sequence of an organism's genome. It can occur due to various factors such as errors during DNA replication, exposure to mutagenic agents like radiation or certain chemicals, or even spontaneous changes. Mutations can affect a single nucleotide (point mutation) or involve larger segments of DNA, leading to insertions, deletions, or rearrangements.

On the other hand, polymorphism refers to the occurrence of multiple forms or variants of a particular gene within a population. These variants are relatively common and can be observed at a frequency of at least 1% in the population. Polymorphisms can arise from mutations, but they are not necessarily associated with any negative effects or diseases. They can be inherited from ancestors or arise de novo in a population.

Types of Mutation

Mutations can be classified into several types based on their impact on the DNA sequence. Point mutations are the most common type and involve the substitution of a single nucleotide with another. This can result in three possible outcomes: silent mutations (no change in the amino acid sequence), missense mutations (change in a single amino acid), or nonsense mutations (premature termination of protein synthesis).

Other types of mutations include insertions and deletions, where one or more nucleotides are added or removed from the DNA sequence, respectively. These can lead to frameshift mutations, altering the reading frame and potentially causing significant changes in the resulting protein. Additionally, chromosomal mutations involve larger-scale alterations, such as inversions, translocations, or duplications, which can have profound effects on gene expression and function.

Types of Polymorphism

Polymorphisms can be categorized into different types based on their location and impact on the genome. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are the most common type and involve a variation in a single nucleotide within a gene. SNPs can occur in coding regions, leading to amino acid changes, or in non-coding regions, affecting gene regulation or splicing.

Another type of polymorphism is the insertion/deletion polymorphism (indel), where a segment of DNA is inserted or deleted, resulting in variable lengths of the DNA sequence. These indels can be found within coding or non-coding regions and may have functional consequences depending on their location.

Tandem repeat polymorphisms are characterized by the presence of repeated DNA sequences, such as short tandem repeats (STRs) or variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs). These repeats can vary in length between individuals, leading to polymorphic regions in the genome.

Lastly, copy number variations (CNVs) refer to the presence of variable numbers of copies of a particular DNA segment. CNVs can range from small deletions or duplications to larger-scale alterations, impacting gene dosage and potentially contributing to phenotypic variation.

Impacts and Significance

Mutations can have diverse impacts on an organism, ranging from neutral to detrimental or even beneficial effects. While many mutations are silent and do not result in any noticeable changes, others can lead to genetic disorders or diseases. For example, mutations in tumor suppressor genes or oncogenes can contribute to the development of cancer. On the other hand, beneficial mutations can provide an advantage in certain environments, leading to evolutionary adaptations.

Polymorphisms, on the other hand, are generally considered to be neutral or have subtle effects on an organism's phenotype. They can contribute to natural genetic variation within a population, allowing for adaptation to different environments. Polymorphisms can also serve as genetic markers for studying population genetics, human migration patterns, or disease susceptibility.

Examples and Applications

Examples of mutations include the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, which are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. These mutations can be inherited or occur spontaneously. Another example is the mutation in the CFTR gene, causing cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disorder affecting the respiratory and digestive systems.

Polymorphisms have been extensively studied in the context of human genetics. For instance, the ABO blood group system is determined by a polymorphism in the ABO gene, resulting in different blood types (A, B, AB, or O). Polymorphisms in the HLA genes are crucial for immune system function and transplantation compatibility. Additionally, pharmacogenetic studies often focus on polymorphisms that influence drug metabolism or response, allowing for personalized medicine approaches.


In summary, mutation and polymorphism are two distinct concepts in genetics. While mutations refer to permanent changes in the DNA sequence, polymorphisms represent the occurrence of multiple variants within a population. Mutations can have various impacts, ranging from neutral to detrimental or beneficial effects, while polymorphisms are generally considered to be neutral or have subtle phenotypic consequences. Understanding the attributes and implications of both mutation and polymorphism is crucial for unraveling the complexity of genetic diversity and its role in evolution, disease susceptibility, and personalized medicine.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.