Mutant and Proud


Humans are said to 99.9% genetically identical, and yet the variations expressed in the 0.1% are enough to make us diverse. These variations are a result of a collection of different mutations in various individuals over centuries. A ‘Mutation’ is an alteration in the genetic sequence of an organism. These changes are mainly involved with the nucleic acids which result in changes in the genetic message carried by that gene. Some basic types of mutations are substitutions, insertions and deletions. Depending on which type of mutation has occurred, the resulting protein may or may not be altered. A simple example explaining how these mutations work is as follows.

Consider the three lettered words to be amino acids in a protein sequence.
Normal protein or sentence:
Substitution causes point mutation, but the sentence is still readable:
Deletion of a letter causes frame shift, sentence makes no sense:
Insertion of an extra letter causes frame shift, sentence makes no sense:

If these mutations are triggered in a non-germline cell, they can be referred to as somatic mutations as they affect only the present individual’s body. Cancer, as a result of the exposure to various mutagens, is an example of somatic mutations as it only affects or influences the survival of one individual. Heritable mutations occur in germline cells and affect the organism’s offspring as well as future descendants. Mutations occur randomly with respect to whether their effects are useful. Although, some mutations do occur more frequently than the others as they might be favoured by low-level biochemical reactions. While mutations are necessary for evolution, they can damage existing adaptations as well. But sometimes, certain mutations can make individuals stand out by giving them almost superhuman abilities.

As a result of these uniquely beneficial mutations, we might have real-life X-men living among us. Liam Hoekstra was found to have a deficiency in the protein myostatin encoded by the MSTN gene that is responsible for inhibiting muscle differentiation and growth. As a result, Liam was a toddler with larger than normal muscles making him 85% stronger than kids of his age, making him almost superhuman. Stephen Wiltshire can draw things in intricate details after he’s seen them only once. Hyperthymesia is a conduction that gives the individual a super memory. Each person with hyperthymesia has a larger caudate nucleus
which is a part of the brain which helps us process and store memories. Although it is assumed that there’s a genetic basis, so far no one has nailed it down. However, there are certain neurological phenomena that come with the condition, like those with hyperthymesia often exhibit obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Another example of a real-life mutant is Gary Turner, who is able to Stretch the skin of his stomach to a length of 15.8 cm due to a rare medical condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissues affecting the skin, ligaments and internal organs. With this condition, the collagen that strengthens the skin and determines its elasticity becomes defective, resulting in, among other things, a loosening of the skin, and “hypermobility” of the joints. In more serious cases, it can cause the fatal collapse or rupturing of blood vessels. But since his case isn’t as serious, this condition makes him a real-life Mr. Fantastic.

Unlike Wolverine, it’s not exactly possible to infuse one’s skeleton with Adamantium, which isn’t even a real metal. But a particular mutation in the LRP5 gene, which is responsible for many bone ailments, makes the bones super strong and extremely resistant to breaking. Studying this mutation may help researchers develop a novel cure for osteoporosis. A 2008 study found that lots of top runners and athletes possess a mutation located at gene ACTN3, also known as the “sports gene.” This involves how fast muscles move, allowing them to flex faster for running and other physical activities. While most humans have three color
receptors in their eyes, tetrachromats, usually women, have four. This is caused by a mutation of the opsin gene. So, an average person can see about 1 million colours but those with tetrachromacy can see about 100 million.

Besides these naturally occurred random mutations, science has allowed humans to artificially enhance themselves with the help of various drugs or medical procedures. With the combination of nature and technology, the future might see a Xavier’s school of gifted youngsters.

Reference (Jan-21-E2)

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