Mutation - A Genetic Change

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Mutation Meaning

  • Mutation definition Biology refers to a change in the nucleotide sequence of the genome of a living organism, virus, or extrachromosomal DNA. Viral genomes can be of DNA/RNA

  • The change or alteration occurring in our DNA base sequences (A,C,G and T) is due to various environmental factors including Ultraviolet light and also due to errors caused when the DNA is copied. 

  • RNA and both are types of nucleic acids, therefore, anything with RNA or DNA can have a mutation. It concludes that living organisms including animals, humans, plants, bacteria, fungi, protists and archaea can all have mutations. Also, viruses can have mutations. Many mutations are neutral in effect and can also be harmful as well as helpful in some manner (organisms can survive certain unfavourable conditions because of mutation).

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What is Mutation and the Causes of Mutation?

Central dogma of molecular genetics involves the conversion of DNA into RNA (through transcription) and protein synthesis (through translation). Mutations make the protein synthesis go wrong during translation or mistakes in DNA are present that result in abnormalities in bodies in the form of some diseases like sickle cell anaemia. So, the causes of mutation can be any of the below mentioned points

  1. Mutations can be inherited from parents to a child.

  2. Mutations are spontaneous, eg- DNA replication errors (internal factor), environmental factors and completely random reasons.

  3. External factors such as certain types of chemicals or excessive radiation also cause mutations to occur.


Types of Mutation

After knowing the mutation definition and causes of mutation, let’s learn about different mutation and its types.


  1. Gene Mutations

  • DNA makes up genes and genes can code for proteins, influencing various traits. However, not all genes code for proteins and not all genes are turned on. 

  • Therefore, when a mutation in DNA occurs, it means a change in one or more DNA bases takes place, then different proteins are produced which affect an organism’s traits.

  • Example: A fruit fly's DNA faces mutations; it may include-

  1. Substitution which means the wrong base is matched; 

  2. Insertion which means an extra-base or other bases are added in; 

  3. Deletion can occur which means a base is removed. So, the three types of gene mutations are substitution, insertion and deletion.

  • Insertions and deletions, discussed above, are known to have the potential to be especially dangerous. This is because if we add a base or remove a base, all of a sudden, the number of total bases change and every bases that is read in three, everything that is read afterwards insertion/deletion could be affected. This is called frameshift mutation and it leads to many amino acid changes.


  1. Chromosomal Mutations

When mutations occur at the level of chromosome, it is called chromosomal mutation. Chromosomes are made up of DNA and protein, are highly organized and have lots of genes on them. The human chromosome number is 46; 23 from an egg cell and 23 from a sperm cell. Similarly, fruit fly has 8 chromosomes, 4 comes from an egg cell and 4 comes from the sperm cell.


Chromosomal Mutation Examples

  • Examples of chromosomal mutations are duplication, where extra copies of genes are generated. 

  • Another is deletion, where some of the genetic material breaks off and inversion when a chromosome segment gets inversed (i.e. reversed) and put back on the chromosome; 

  • the last one is translocation when a fragment from one chromosome breaks off and attaches to another chromosome.

During meiosis, in fruit flies and other animals, meiosis makes sperm and egg cells that can have half the number of chromosomes as the organism. And sometimes, those chromosomes don’t separate completely. It is called nondisjunction resulting in an egg or sperm cell that has too many or too few chromosomes. 

  • Mutation can be passed down to an offspring; for example a protist with mutation when undergoes asexual reproduction and divide, the daughter cell can inherit the same mutation. 

  • Also, a fruit fly that reproduces sexually to pass a mutation to its offspring if that mutation is found in the genetic material of the sperm/egg cell. Frequent studies have been done to study fruit flies so these can be used to cite various examples for mutations. 

  • Humans also pass down mutations to the offspring, for example, substitution occurring in the case of sickle cell anaemia. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that helps in carrying oxygen, however in sickle cell anemia, the gene coding for hemoglobin is mutated and if an offspring inherits two copies of this gene (one from each parent), it can have this disorder too. It is a condition where it is difficult for RBCs to carry oxygen because the shape of the RBC is affected by the mutated Hb protein. And in other cases, if an offspring gets one copy of a gene from one parent, it is only the carrier but not officially gets the disease.

Genetic counselors work to help families that may be affected by genetic disorders; this cites the importance of studying mutations.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is Mutation in Biology?

Mutation in biology can be defined as the changes or alteration in the nucleotide sequence of the genome of a living organism. It can take place in the DNA or RNA of any living organism including humans, animals, bacteria, fungi, protists and viruses.

Different types of mutations are gene mutations and chromosomal mutations. Also, there can exist silent mutations where mutation takes place without a subsequent change in the amino acids or the function of the overall protein. Nonsense mutations also occur where mutations hold the sequence of amino acids in the final protein. Missense mutations are also known where two different amino acids are found within the produced protein, other than its original.

2. Elaborate Genetic Mutation Meaning.

Gene mutations are one of the mutations here a mutation in DNA occurs, meaning change in one or more DNA bases and as a result, different proteins are produced that affect the traits of an organism. Substitution, insertion and deletion are the three types of causes that may cause genetic mutation.