Genetic distance refers to the genetic divergence between species or between populations within a species. It is measured by a variety of parameters. Smaller genetic distances indicate a close genetic relationship whereas large genetic distances indicate a more distant genetic relationship. Genetic distance can be used to compare the genetic similarity between different species, such as humans and chimpanzees. Within a species genetic distance can be used to measure the divergence between different sub-species.
In its simplest form, the genetic distance between two populations is the difference in frequencies of a trait. For example the frequency of Rh negative individuals is 50.4% among Basques, 41.2% in France and 41.1% in England. Thus the genetic difference between the Basques and French is 9.2% and the genetic difference between the French and the English is 0.1% for the RH negative trait. The genetic distance of several individual traits can then be averaged to compute an overall genetic distance.
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