-A high school student from New Jersey
August 16, 2016
To many people the word “mutation” sounds scary or magical. They might think of giant ants attacking Tokyo or the X-men.
It turns out that a mutation isn’t really any of these. It is simply a change in DNA. That’s it.
And they aren’t even all that rare. Mutations happen all the time and you have lots of them.
While not all mutations cause problems, some do. One of these is the DNA change that can lead to sickle cell anemia.
A Mutation in the Hemoglobin Gene Causes Sickle Cell Anemia
As I said, a mutation in the hemoglobin gene causes sickle cell anemia. And what a tiny mutation!
People with sickle cell anemia have a mutation in the hemoglobin that changes a GAG to a GTG. Sounds harmless enough, but single letter changes can have a big effect.
Look at this recipe for instance:
“Add the HAM to the soup”
Now imagine we change the “H” in ham to “Y” like so:
“Add the YAM to the soup”
Mutations Make Genetic Diversity
What’s even more amazing is that mutations are absolutely essential for life. They are where all the wonderful differences between you and me and between you and a tuna or a daisy come from. Without them life could not have started and it would not have survived.
You see, mutations are the reason why plants and animals (including people!) can adapt to a changing environment. Let’s look to moths as an example.