Thursday, March 16, 2017

We're All Mutants

This article on the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND site uses the "X-Men" series as a springboard for an overview of genes and mutations:

We're All X-Men

Popular culture tends to think of "mutants" as extraordinary freaks of nature to be either feared or envied (in superhero stories, often a bit of both). Yet alterations in DNA are common and pervasive. The article estimates that human beings "accumulate 100 to 200 mutations each generation." Some changes, while nowhere near as amazing as Wolverine's super-healing power, have had far-reaching cultural effects; think of the fact that, while most ethnic groups have lost the ability to digest milk in adulthood, a few have retained lactose tolerance all their lives—so we have dairy products and herding societies. Some mutations are both good and bad. The gene that causes sickle cell anemia also offers protection against the malaria parasite.

Recommended reading: A book titled FREAKS OF NATURE: WHAT ANOMALIES TELL US ABOUT DEVELOPMENT AND EVOLUTION, by Mark Blumberg, explores "monsters" in human and animal development, whether produced by genetic mutations before conception or by environmental influences or developmental glitches during gestation. As the subtitle indicates, studying "monstrosities" can provide insight into the normal course of development in an individual or species. For example, one chapter analyzes the way malformations of limb development in many different animals can be caused by either environmental toxins or changes in DNA, yet the underlying cellular processes that produce anomalies or absence of limbs are similar, whether in people or animals born with missing arms or legs or in naturally limbless snakes.

Without variations for evolution to work on, we wouldn't be here, since life on Earth wouldn't have changed from the primeval, microscopic proto-organism. As the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND article says, the electronic mutant detector in one of the "X-Men" movies "wouldn’t have just identified Mystique as the camouflaged mutant; it would registered all of the humans in the room as well." On the cellular level, we're all mutants.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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