The evidence for genetic variation can be traced to Mendel's experiments: The discovery of the laws of heredity was made possible by the expression of segregating alleles. Since that time, the study of genetic variation in natural populations has been characterized by a gradual discovery of ever‐increasing amounts of genetic variation. In the early decades of this century geneticists thought that an individual is homozygous at most gene loci and that individuals of the same species are genetically almost identical. Recent discoveries suggest that, at least in outcrossing organisms, the DNA sequences inherited one from each parent are likely to be different for nearly every gene locus in every individual; ie, that every individual may be heterozygous at most, if not all, gene loci. But the efforts to obtain precise estimates of genetic variation have been thwarted for various reasons. Copyright © 1983 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.