What are Mutations and what are the different types of Mutations? - The Comprehensive Minds

What are Mutations and what are the different types of Mutations?


What are Mutations

Meet Wolverine, arguably one of the most iconic superheroes in history. He has extendable claws,   heals incredibly fast, and never ages; he uses these abilities to fight bad guys. According to X-Men lore, he has this ability because of a mutation. 


Or perhaps you’re more of a Spiderman fan. As you may know, he acquired his spidey senses and wall-crawling abilities because a radioactive spider bite caused him to mutate. This is how mutations are shown in superhero movies, but can real-life mutations really create superheroes? Could they give you superpowers that you’ve always wished for?  Before we answer that, we should first understand what mutations are, and how they work.  



What are mutations?


A mutation is any random change in the DNA of a cell or an organism. DNA is a long helical molecule with all the instructions for how living things will develop. These changes can happen either through external factors, like radioactivity, or UV and x-rays, or through internal factors, such as when a cell is dividing and it incorrectly copies the DNA.  


DNA is the instruction book for how to make various molecular machines—proteins.   Proteins make up an important aspect of our cells; they help our cells extract energy from food, do the housekeeping, and even make new proteins. These proteins and their function in the body lead to the traits that make us unique, like eye color or our blood type. 


Therefore, when the DNA changes, our proteins might also change, which could lead to a change in a trait.  Most of the time, mutations don’t cause a significant change. These are considered neutral mutations. Sometimes, however, mutations can be good or bad. When they are bad, they lead to diseases, like cancer or cystic fibrosis. 


On the other hand, when they’re good, it can allow an organism to more readily adapt to its environment. In that case, can a good mutation lead to a superpower? Well, probably not the really outlandish ones, such as controlling the weather or altering time. However, exceptional strength, super speed, or even rapid healing might be possible, or at least this is what scientists have observed so far.



Also Read: Is a natural Covid infection really 13 times better than being vaccinated?  



Types of Mutations


To get a superpower through a mutation, your DNA would have to be mutated in one of the following ways:  

1) Gene mutations.

Gene mutations

DNA is made up of 4 different chemical letters, or bases, which bond with each other in specific ways– A to T, and C to G. Long sequences of these bases come together to form a gene.  A change in a few bases within a single gene is called a gene mutation. This change can come in two types. 



a) Substitution mutation:  

This change is when one base gets swapped for another base.   However, even this minor swap can lead to significant changes in the protein. To understand how this happens, we need to briefly look at how a gene leads to a protein. DNA instructions are read in chunks of three bases at a time. These triplet bases are called codons.   


There are various combinations of codons, and each codon goes on to specify a certain amino acid,   the building blocks of proteins. Thus, a gene gets read from the start, one codon at a time, in a pattern that eventually leads to a protein. 


Substitution mutation

In a substitution mutation, switching one base in a codon can change what amino acid it codes for. Now, there are three types of substitution mutations, based on what kind of change they cause in the gene. There are silent mutations, which don’t cause a change in the resulting protein.   


This happens because more than one codon can specify a single amino acid. Furthermore, some amino acids are chemically similar to others, so they play the same role in the protein as the original amino acid.  


Then there are missense mutations, which is when a swap leads to a chemically different amino acid being added to a protein, an addition that can change the way the protein works. Lastly, there are nonsense mutations. Here, the swap might prematurely stop protein synthesis by creating a stop codon—a codon that signals the end of a gene—which would result in an incomplete protein. 


Interestingly, scientists have found a few mutations in some genes that give “superpowers”... sort of.... A nonsense mutation in the ACTN3 gene, which works in muscles, allows people who have it to be super-fast and athletic.  



b) Insertion/Deletion mutation: 


Insertion/Deletion mutation

The other type of gene mutation is an insertion or deletion, where a base gets added or deleted. This causes what is also called a frameshift mutation. A frameshift refers to the change of the whole sequence of codons after the insertion or deletion. In other words, the triplet reading “frame” shifts in one direction. This usually results in a very dysfunctional protein.



2) Chromosomal mutation.  


Chromosomal mutation

Chromosomes are the condensed and compact version of DNA, and chromosomal mutation happens when a section of a chromosome gets rearranged. Basically, a chromosome can be duplicated,   inverted, exchanged with another portion of the DNA, or it can simply be deleted. 

 

Scientists identified these mutations by bombarding fruit flies with X-rays and UV-rays.   The poor flies didn’t become superflies, they usually became very un-super, and abnormal flies.  




Aneuploidy



These heroic flies also helped scientists find another type of chromosomal mutation called aneuploidy, where the total number of chromosomes could change.  In most multicellular life, chromosomes come in pairs—one from the mother and one from the father.   

Humans have 23 pairs, making a total of 46 chromosomes,   whereas a fly has only 4 pairs of chromosomes. Sometimes, when sex cells—the egg and the sperm—divide, the wrong number of chromosomes end up in the cells. In the resulting cells, one might have an extra chromosome, while another might lack a chromosome. This is called aneuploidy,   which literally means ‘not good fold’.



Conclusion:  


Mutations will only pass on to children when they happen in the DNA in the egg or the sperm. A mutation in any other cells, for example, through a radioactive spider bite, probably wouldn’t lead to a superpower. 

One spider bite probably also won’t lead to the trillions of cells in our body mutating; for that to happen, almost every cell would have to be bitten by a  spider or affected by that radioactive venom. To complicate it even further, every cell would also have to experience the same type of mutation! 

In conclusion, it is possible but highly improbable that you could become a superhero like Spiderman after being bit by a radioactive creature, and the chances of your kid being the next Wolverine are slim to none. 

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