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is it the same thing as antigenic variation?
No, antigenic variation involves genomic rearrangement
Phase variation can be thought of as MORE or LESS of something. An on/off switch. No DNA is being rearranged, just under or overexpressed in response to the environment.
This isn't in Zanki, Lightyear, or First Aid, and I don't remember ever learning about this in class. Thanks NBME! :D
You wouldn't expect the difference in phenotype of a given organism in a given patient to change because of mutations. It has to be something other than mutation. Phase variation is the only option that sounded like non-mutation.