What is genetic mutation?

Genetic mutation may be a stronghold of science fiction and comics, but its presence is very real and still not always understood. At a basic level, mutation causes a gene or genetic sequence to change from its original or intended purpose. It can be caused by a variety of internal or external sources, and the effects can be positive or negative for the mutated organism.

There are several factors that can cause the genetic mutation. In the normal process of cell division, mutation can occur when properties of the gene are not copied correctly to the new cell. Radiation, such as that from ultraviolet sources, can also cause mutation. Mutation caused by radiation can be very dangerous, but it has also been harnessed for medical use, such as in the treatment of malignant tumors. Viruses, which attack an organism at the cellular level, can also be responsible for genetic mutation.

Mutation is essential for the evolution of a species. Some genetic mutations may be beneficial to a species, serving a purpose such as increasing immunity to a common disease. Introducing the mutation into a species encourages gene pool variations that can lead to beneficial adaptations. Negative mutations will often be destroyed through natural selection, as weaker or less adaptable samples are less likely to survive and pass on their detrimental genetics to another generation.

Depending on what type of cell is affected by the mutation, the results can be positive, negative, or neutral. Hereditary diseases, for example, are the result of a mutated or damaged cell passing the mutation on to each new cell it creates. Similarly, cancer is the result of malignant growth of mutated cells. However, a common mutation in humans, the CCR5 base pair, can give additional resistance to some diseases, including HIV.

The concept of mutation has sparked the imagination for generations, as its potential power to change or harm humans is enormous. A popular comic series, X Men , takes the concept to an extreme, creating a parallel universe in which part of the population receives superpowers due to extreme genetic mutation. While the limits of genetic mutation remain unexplored, it seems unlikely that anyone will start sprouting horns or flying due to mutation any time soon.

The mutation has become better understood by scientists in the last 50 years, but it still presents many unanswered questions. While it is known, for example, that exposure to ultraviolet radiation, such as sunlight, can cause mutations that can lead to skin cancer, the necessary level of exposure has not yet been determined. The science of genetics has made tremendous advances in knowledge in the last decade, with each discovery bringing scientists closer to understanding the properties of genes and the true effects of genetic mutation.

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