Is this rat hairless?
Yes. Why? The result of a mutation, a change in the DNA sequence. The effects of mutations can vary widely, from being beneficial, to having no effect, to having lethal consequences, and every possibility in between.
Effects of Mutations
The majority of mutations have neither negative nor positive effects on the organism in which they occur. These mutations are called neutral mutations. Examples include silent point mutations. They are neutral because they do not change the amino acids in the proteins they encode.
Many other mutations have no effect on the organism because they are repaired before protein synthesis occurs. Cells have multiple repair mechanisms to fix mutations in DNA. One way DNA can be repaired is illustrated in the Figure below. If a cell’s DNA is permanently damaged and cannot be repaired, the cell is likely to be prevented from dividing.
Some mutations have a positive effect on the organism in which they occur. They are called beneficial mutations. They lead to new versions of proteins that help organisms adapt to changes in their environment. Beneficial mutations are essential for evolution to occur. They increase an organism’s changes of surviving or reproducing, so they are likely to become more common over time. There are several well-known examples of beneficial mutations. Here are just two:
- Mutations in many bacteria that allow them to survive in the presence of antibiotic drugs. The mutations lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
- A unique mutation is found in people in a small town in Italy. The mutation protects them from developing atherosclerosis, which is the dangerous buildup of fatty materials in blood vessels. The individual in which the mutation first appeared has even been identified.
Imagine making a random change in a complicated machine such as a car engine. The chance that the random change would improve the functioning of the car is very small. The change is far more likely to result in a car that does not run well or perhaps does not run at all. By the same token, any random change in a gene's DNA is likely to result in a protein that does not function normally or may not function at all. Such mutations are likely to be harmful. Harmful mutations may cause genetic disorders or cancer.
- A genetic disorder is a disease caused by a mutation in one or a few genes. A human example is cystic fibrosis. A mutation in a single gene causes the body to produce thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and blocks ducts in digestive organs.
- Cancer is a disease in which cells grow out of control and form abnormal masses of cells. It is generally caused by mutations in genes that regulate the cell cycle. Because of the mutations, cells with damaged DNA are allowed to divide without limits. Cancer genes can be inherited.
- Mutations are essential for evolution to occur because they increase genetic variation and the potential for individuals to differ.
- The majority of mutations are neutral in their effects on the organisms in which they occur.
- Beneficial mutations may become more common through natural selection.
- Harmful mutations may cause genetic disorders or cancer.