Causes of Mutations

Many people hear the word mutation and they have a brief flash of fear.  Mutation! The word itself sounds scary.  Certainly no one wants to be a mutant.  But how about words like evolution and progress.  That is what a mutant really is, simply genetics rolling the dice.  It could come up snake eyes and be a mutation that does nothing to help the species, or it could be the needed step to help the species survive and prosper.  But why does mutation happen?

♦  How do Mutations Happen?

According to the University of Utah, Genetic Science Learning  Center there are only two very simple ways for a mutation to occur.  The first way is for the mutation to be inherited.  If one or both of the parents has a mutation, there is a chance to pass it down to their children.  The second way is to be acquired.  When the environmental agencies damage the host DNA or when the formation of the DNA is formed with inherent errors, it causes mutations which can subsequently be passed down.  The hereditary cause is pretty straightforward, but for a complete understanding, more research needs to be done on what can initially cause the changes to DNA.

♦  Inaccurate copy of DNA

Even with material as highly accurate as DNA, sometimes mistakes happen in the “copy” process.  These mistakes can be positive or negative.  The DNA doesn’t care, but the simple fact is that a small change in source DNA in duplication can produce some varied results.

♦  Outside Influences Creating Mutations

Chances are that you have seen the “Hulk” in either comic book, TV or movie form.  This is the “Hulk” type of mutation.  Chemicals and radiation cause DNA to break down.  When the cells work to repair the DNA, they simply may not do it correctly, resulting in a slight variation of DNA.  Unfortunately, such a creation as the “Hulk” would never be possible since large amounts of chemicals and radioactivity would kill.

Major mutations like having an arm grow out of a head is not going to happen because of something called the “Hox gene”.  This is an important gene that controls where certain body parts are supposed to grow.  So to grow an arm coming out of your foot, you would need both the mutation for that –and- a mutation to the HOX gene. 

Curiously enough, such a thing does happen in nature. As pointed out by Berkley’s Effects of Mutation webpage (linked below,) some species of flies have been born with the Hox gene mutation that allows them to grow legs in place of their antennae.


University of Utah, Learn Genetics  Causes DNA Mutations?,  Evolution  Mutations