Is your science teacher a mutant?

Is your science teacher a mutant?

Do mutants really exist?

From Spiderman and the X-men to the Incredible Hulk, mutants have always been turning up in comic books and movies - but so they really exist?

The answer to this question is yes! In fact, everyone is a mutant! New research shows that each of us carries at least 100 new mutations in our DNA.

DNA

How do you get mutations?

You can get them in two ways:

  • From your parents

You can inherit mutations from your parents. This is why some diseases can be inherited like sickle-cell anemia.

  • Individual mutations

These happen in a person's lifetime. This is why some people have genetic diseases that they haven't inherited from their parents.

jbs_haldane

How many mutations do we carry in our bodies?

Way back in the 1930s, JBS Haldane, a pioneer of mathematical genetics, guessed that we carry about 150 mutations. In those days there was no way of proving his theory. Today, new technology has helped us find out the correct figure. Strangely, it turns out to be between 100 and 200. John Haldane was right!

What causes mutations?

Mutations can be caused in many ways. They can happen when cells are dividing. Chemicals, viruses and radiation can also cause them.

 

How does radiation cause mutations?

Types of radiation

Radiation behaves like tiny machine gun bullets that can penetrate deeply into cells and strike the genetic material in the nucleus. There are three types of bullets:

  • Gamma rays
  • Alpha particles
  • Beta particles

alpha_beta_gamma

Alphas, betas and gamma rays are very different kinds of bullet.

Why are the different types of radiation more or less dangerous?

Gamma rays

Gamma rays are the smallest bullet. Because they are so small they can get into the body easier.

Alpha particles

Alpha particles are BIG. They move quite slowly so they cannot get into the body easily. They cannot even get through the dead layer of cells on the surface of your skin.

Beta particles

Beta particles are much smaller than alpha particles. They can get into the body much easier than alpha particles. When they are on the outside of the body they make your skin go red and can even burn sometimes. If these particles get into your body in food, or if you breath them in they can cause a lot of harm.

All of these types of radiation, gamma rays, alpha and beta particles, can cause mutations. They can be found in the natural background radiation all around us.

Can mutations be a good thing?

Yes. Mutations are really important in nature because without them nothing would ever change and no new species would evolve.

Is evolution linked to radiation?

Scientists seem to think the answer to this is yes. Maybe the Earth has been exposed to radiation in different time in the past and this has caused many new species to develop through mutations.

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