Genetic diversity is one alternate concept of biodiversity. Genetic diversity (or variation) is the raw material for adaptation in a species. A species’ future potential for adaptation depends on the genetic diversity held in the genomes of the individuals in populations that make up the species. The same is true for higher taxonomic categories. A genus with very different types of species will have more genetic diversity than a genus with species that look alike and have similar ecologies. The genus with the greatest potential for subsequent evolution is the most genetically diverse one.
Most genes code for proteins, which in turn carry out the metabolic processes that keep organisms alive and reproducing. Genetic diversity can also be conceived of as chemical diversity in that species with different genetic makeups produce different assortments of chemicals in their cells (proteins as well as the products and byproducts of metabolism). This chemical diversity is important for humans because of the potential uses for these chemicals, such as medications. For example, the drug eptifibatide is derived from rattlesnake venom and is used to prevent heart attacks in individuals with certain heart conditions.
At present, it is far cheaper to discover compounds made by an organism than to imagine them and then synthesize them in a laboratory. Chemical diversity is one way to measure diversity that is important to human health and welfare. Through selective breeding, humans have domesticated animals, plants, and fungi, but even this diversity is suffering losses because of market forces and increasing globalism in human agriculture and migration. For example, international seed companies produce only a very few varieties of a given crop and provide incentives around the world for farmers to buy these few varieties while abandoning their traditional varieties, which are far more diverse. The human population depends on crop diversity directly as a stable food source and its decline is troubling to biologists and agricultural scientists.