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In biology, a mutagen (Latin, literally origin of change) is a physical or chemical agent that changes the genetic information (usually DNA) of an organism and thus increases the frequency of mutations above the natural background level. As many mutations cause cancer, mutagens are typically also carcinogens. Not all mutations are caused by mutagens: So-called "spontaneous mutations" occur due to errors in DNA replication, repair and recombination of DNA sequences.
Additional recommended knowledge
Effects of mutations
The changes in nucleic acid sequences by mutations include substitution of nucleotide base-pairs and insertions and deletions of one or more nucleotides in DNA sequences. Although many of these mutations are lethal, or cause serious disease, some have minor effects, as the changes they cause in the sequence of encoded proteins are not significant. Many mutations cause no visible effects at all, either because they occur in introns or because they do not change the amino-acid sequence, due to redundancy of codons.
The change in a population’s genetic material due to the accumulation of random chance is called drift, and serves as a molecular clock. In general, the more nucleotide differences between two organisms, the more time has elapsed since their last common ancestor. Though it is difficult to determine in many organisms, estimates for mutation rates have been made for both E. coli and eukaryotes. It was estimated that, in these organisms, about one nucleotide in every 1010 is changed, and continues through reproduction to future generations of cells.
Discovery of mutagenesis
In the 1920s, Hermann Muller discovered that x-rays caused mutations in fruit flies. He went on to use x-rays to create Drosophila mutants that he used in his studies of genetics. He also discovered that x-rays not only mutate genes in fruit flies but also have effects on the genetic makeup of humans.
Nature of mutagens
Mutagens are usually chemical compounds or ionizing radiation. Mutagens can be divided into different categories according to their effect on DNA replication:
The Ames test is one method to determine how mutagenic an agent is.
Mutagens in fiction
In science fiction, mutagens are often represented as substances that are capable of completely changing the form of the recipient.
I am Legend, in which 95% of the human race is wiped out, with 4% mutated in night stalkers, living off of blood, only appearing at night. See I am Legend book, or movie.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Mutagen". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|