Difference Between Mutation vs. Variation

Main Difference

The main difference between mutation and variation is that mutation is the changes in the nucleotide sequence at DNR level whereas variation is how an individual of species is different from another individual.

Mutation vs. Variation

A mutation is a change that happens in the genome (genetic makeup) of an individual organism. Mutation can be spontaneous. They occur because of radiation, chemicals and sometimes because of cigarette smoke. If a mutation is of small level then it can be beneficial, but if it is of large level, then the organism will probably not survive to reproduce. On the other hand, variation is the change that occurs among a group of species. It can be of genetic or environmental. For example, when some individuals have different hair color or eyes color etc. This change is regarded as a variation. Some types of mutations are very beneficial and give a positive impact on the organisms. These mutations give support to the individual in adapting the conditions of the environments. They help organisms in best fitting in new living conditions. But some mutations can be harmful and cause diseases or disorders. For example, thalassemia and sickle cell anemia result from mutation. Sometimes cancers also rise because of mutational changes in the genes. In contrast to mutation, variation is always regarded as a positive change as it helps to recognize one individual from another. It helps to change and overcome the populations according to the environment. Variations give to support the individual to survive and produce different kinds of generations. Variation is the main way for the process of natural selection because it eliminates the factor which prevents the path of variation. Variation can continue or discontinue in the next generations.

Comparison Chart

Alteration of the nucleotide sequence in the genome of any organism or extrachromosomal DNA is called mutationAny change or slight difference of an individual from another individual in a group is called variation
It affects only a single individualIt can be seen in groups of populations of an individual
Causing Agents
Radiations (radioactive rays, X rays), chemicals, cigarette smokeEnvironmental factors, Gene mutation, crossing over, genetic recombination, genetic drift, gene flow,
1. Fixed, Stable, Germline, hereditary or chromosomal mutation
2. Acquired, somatic, dynamic or Unstable mutation
1. Continuous Variation
2. Discontinuous variation
3. Environmental Variation
4. Genetic Variation

What is a Mutation?

The mutation is known as spontaneous change which occurs at the genome level of an organism. It can happen in a germline cell or somatic cell, but it can also occur in gonadal or gamete cell. The mutation causes a change in the DNA sequence, which may be because of smokes, harmful radiation, environmental factors or errors in DNA replication. Although the mutation during the cell replication is recognized by the cell and are resolved at that time, some mutations have to potential of damage and become fixed. These fixed mutations are transferred genetically and affect positively, but some show ill effects and cause diseases, for example, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, and cancer. The hereditary mutation is also called chromosomal mutation and occurs in sperm or egg. Such gene change is transferred into the further living and dividing new cell of the new developing organism. Chromosomal mutation plays a more significant role in changing the genome as the changes are brought during the process of meiosis. Chromosomal mutations are of different types which can be structural abnormalities and numerical abnormalities. Numerical abnormalities are of two kinds aneuploidy and polyploidy, while structural abnormalities have five kinds named inversions, deletion, translocations, and rings formation. There are also sex-linked mutations that are related to the mutations in the sex chromosomes.

What is the Variation?

Word “Genetic variation” is used to show different characteristics among different organisms, how they differ from one another regarding hairs, nails, hands, color, body shapes, etc. It reflects the DNA sequence which differs one genome from other. There are two significant sources of variation are mutation and recombination. A mutation is a permanent alteration to the DNA sequence. New mutations take place when there is an error during DNA replication that is not fixed by DNA repair enzymes. It is only the error is copied by DNA replication and fixed in the DNA that it is regarded as a mutation. The mutation may be beneficial to the organism, harmful or neutral. Somatic mutations can accumulate in cells and mostly without any harm. They can cause the local changes in tissues such as moles on the skin and can have some serious effect such as cancer. Recombination is the second source of genetic variation. Each human has a mixture of genetic material. This mixing occurs during recombination when homozygous DNA stands align and cross over. Recombination effectively shuffles maternal and paternal DNA, producing new combinations of variants in the daughter cells.

Environmental variation also known as variation is seen in population due to change in the organism while genetic variations are transferred from one generation to another generation. If the variation continues in generations and there is a slight difference in two organism then it is called continuous variation while if variation does not pass in the upcoming generations, it is called discontinuous variation.

Key Differences

  1. The mutation is the change in the DNA whereas variation can be either in DNA or environmental.
  2. The mutation is the small or large level change whereas variation is the change in the whole group.
  3. The mutation causes changes in genes always whereas variation is the change in either genes or general change.
  4. Causing factors of mutation are the cigarette smoke, radiations, and chemicals whereas causing factors of various genetic changes and environmental factors.
  5. Mutation can be harmful or beneficial whereas variation always has a positive impact.
  6. Stable and unstable are the types of mutation whereas genetic variation and environmental variation are the types of variation.


It has concluded that mutation and variation may vary from gene to genome and from one organism to another organism.