Deerwalk Blog

Genetic Mutations

Posted by Resha Sedhai on April 28, 2015

We have seen that Deerwalk is full of superhero fans. Of course we’re excited about the upcoming release of “The Avengers 2”. My friends and I were discussing the possibility of becoming super humans. It’s funny, but they asked me if it’s possible “genetically” to transform from a normal human to a super human. Technically, anything is possible, but this one is unlikely. It got me thinking and I want to share this overview about genetic mutation.

DNA is the building block of any organism. It’s the genetic “recipe” that our cells follow when they combine or divide. Skin cells have a certain DNA, bone cells have another, and brain cells have a third. Every cell in our body is controlled by the DNA inside it. The cells in our body replicate as needed and DNA is the critical component that ensures this process happens right.
Mutation is a permanent change of the DNA of an organism. Every time a cell replicates, it reads the current DNA and creates a copy of it to be used in the new cell. Sometimes, this copy isn’t perfect causing a mutation to the DNA of the new cell.

Fortunately, the cell is able to repair most of these changes. Our bodies have active processes that identify mutations in DNA and fix them or destroy the cell. Some mutations don’t get fixed and new cells are created with these genetic mutations. Most often, mutation gives rise to variations that are neither good nor bad, just different. . The whole human race is one species with the same set of genes. Mutations create slightly different versions of the same genes that make every individual unique. For example, there are six genes that account for our eye color. Changes in these genes can result in, say, light or dark brown eyes. Eye color usually isn’t considered a problem. These mutations account for the variation we see in human hair, skin, height, shape, behavior and susceptibility to disease.

There are some mutations that result in large or significant changes to a protein and can seriously impact a cell or an individual. For example, cancer is a set of cells with a genetic mutation. In this case, the mutation causes the cancerous cell to continuously replicate. Sometimes egg and sperm cells mutate causing mutations to be passed down offspring. For example, Down syndrome is a disease caused by genetic mutation when cells have an extra copy of one of their chromosomes. When variations occur within genes there is often a consequence, but mutation rarely causes death.

Radiation, chemicals, byproducts of cellular metabolism, free radicals and ultraviolet rays from the sun are examples of agents that damage thousands of nucleotides in each of our cells every day. They affect the core building blocks of DNA, converting one base to another, knocking a base off its backbone, or even causing a break in the DNA strand. Most of the time cells stop dividing or self-destruct when major damage is done to DNA. This is why we use sunscreen. When we use sunscreen, we are protecting ourselves against UV rays which cause mutation in our cells.

Coming back to the super human question, changes to an organisms DNA have the ability to change that cell. However, our bodies are really good at finding those changes and fixing them before they get out of control. This limits our ability to become super human in short time. As time progresses, the DNA of our species continually evolves because of mutation. So, a normal human today may be a super human compared to the normal humans one million years ago. Without mutation there would be no variation, and without variation there would be no evolution.

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