When Do Animals Become Mutants?
Animals are said to be mutants when they show characteristics different from the rest of their species. Mutations are processes by which the hereditary properties of some of the reproductive cells in animals are altered.
In nature these changes can take place spontaneously and unpredictably. But they are rare, and little is known about this cause, beyond the fact that the longer an animal takes to breed, the less likely it is to give birth to a mutant.
Nowadays, the most common causes of animals producing mutants are chemical substances and radiation. Indeed, radiation is rapidly increasing hazard.
Animals born from parents who have suffered the effects of more than normal radiation are invariably mutants. Cows have been known to grow a fifth leg. In the Pacific Islands, where nuclear tests have been conducted, there are fish which have forgotten how to swim and have been found on land. Birds have lost the power to fly and some may have only one wing.
Animal mutants have long intrigued and frightened people. In Greek mythology, mutants such as dogs and horses with two heads were believed to possess magical powers.
In biology and especially genetics, a mutant is an organism or a new genetic character arising or resulting from an instance of mutation, which is a base-pair sequence change within the DNA of a gene or chromosome of an organism.
The natural occurrence of genetic mutations is integral to the process of evolution. The study of mutants is an integral part of biology; by understanding the effect that a mutation in a gene has, it is possible to establish the normal function of that gene.
A word familiar to all fans of science fiction, mutation refers to any sudden change in DNA—deoxyribonucleic acid, the genetic blueprint for an organism—that creates a change in an organism’s appearance, behavior, or health. Unlike in the sci-fi movies, however, scientists typically use the word mutant as an adjective rather than as a noun, as, for example, in the phrase “a mutant strain.”
Mutation is a phenomenon significant to many aspects of life on Earth and is one of the principal means by which evolutionary change takes place. It is also the cause of numerous conditions, ranging from albinism to cystic fibrosis to dwarfism.
Mutation indicates a response to an outside factor, and the nature of that factor can vary greatly, from environmental influences to drugs to high-energy radiation.