September 2, 2009

"We are all mutants."

Science says.

34 comments:

Kev said...

(the other kev)

What a ripoff. I didn't even get metal claws.

Fred4Pres said...

Are we not men? We are Devo.

montana urban legend said...

But the study wasn't approved by the redactors of Genesis, so we know it's all BS, right?

traditionalguy said...

The Mutant designation is used to get attention for funding his studies. Everyone already knows that no two people identical, just as there are no two identical works of art.

Bissage said...

Ever since the day I turned 21, I have felt blessed by random mutation that I was born with two livers.

Crimso said...

I think the point of interest is the quantification. Any reasonably-educated biochemist can tell you that (based solely on what we know about fidelity of DNA replication, much less the many other factors involved) mutations must be occurring relatively frequently in our tissues. Of course, I think they are referring to mutations that would have been occurring in germ-line cells. In any case, most mutations have no effect (for several fascinating reasons), so don't expect to start seeing humans with genitalia growing out of their eye sockets any time soon (i.e., cockeyed people).

montana urban legend said...

"Science says".

I don't think that had a sufficiently conspiratorial ring to it.

Everyone knows that science is a conspiracy directed at preventing the good people of the American heartland from believing things literally just because.

Shanna said...

What a ripoff. I didn't even get metal claws.

Metal claws have to be surgically implanted at a secret government facility. Don't you know anything :)

Largo said...

Speak for yourself, Science.

(Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a beer waiting for me back at Cheers.)

- Not Largo

montana urban legend said...

Most mutations have no effect because non-coding regions make up the vast majority of human DNA.

Crimso said...

"Most mutations have no effect because non-coding regions make up the vast majority of human DNA."

Not really. Most mutations also have no effect in organisms where almost all of the DNA is coding. Other mechanisms at work (degeneracy of genetic code, tendency toward mutations to result in chemically similar amino acid residues in the resulting protein, fact that some aa residues in a protein are simply not at all important in terms of chemical identity, etc.). Can you guess what my Ph.D. is in? :)

Hoosier Daddy said...

That explains Obama's ears.

montana urban legend said...

"Can you guess what my Ph.D. is in? :)"

Yes yes. I thought you already tried to enthrall me with that. And the reasons you mention are true. But what interests me are non-coding regions. Why? Regulation of transcription is such an underappreciated and not very well understood phenomenon. So many people tend to focus so extensively on coding regions that everything else is like this big mystery with possibly important functions in that regard or others.

montana urban legend said...

My guess is that regulation of transcription (in terms of volume) probably accounts for as much difference between individuals (inter-specific variation) as anything else (i.e. mutations that actually result in change of function).

Crimso said...

"I thought you already tried to enthrall me with that."

?????

No doubt. But a lot of that noncoding DNA may be there simply for structural reasons we have yet to appreciate. I agree that mutations that affect regulation of gene expression are not as appreciated as those that result in a mutant protein, and can potentially be every bit as important. As much as we like to tell everybody how much we know and understand, we're really in the dark about a great deal of how it all works.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

Metal claws have to be surgically implanted at a secret government facility. Don't you know anything :)

Will Obamacare cover this?

Kirk Parker said...

Crimso wins @ 9:33AM!


wv -- manie (adj): a large quantity. You don't see manie cockeyed people these days.

Richard Dolan said...

The science behind this is, no doubt, of interest in itself. But what caught my eye was a turn of phrase by one of the researchers -- finding the mutations was "more difficult than finding an ant's egg in an emperor's rice store." Perhaps the metaphor is common in Chinese (I am assuming from the name that the researcher was Chinese), but it has a nice, fresh ring in English.

Jason (the commenter) said...

traditionalguy : Everyone already knows that no two people identical, just as there are no two identical works of art.

You are misunderstanding what the study was about. They didn't detect simple differences between people, they discovered errors that are inheritable, actual changes that are occurring all the time in our genetic make-up and being passed on. The basis for evolution.

El Presidente said...

Didn't Darwin say this first?

SteveR said...

I see the people who write for Science didn't get taught about evolution in 7th grade Life Science.

traditionalguy said...

Jason...I am not claiming to be a Human Genome scientist, but I do comment on the terms used in the article. If a red-headed man and a red headed woman produce a brunette child, is that called an "Error"? My point is that new things appearing is not erroneous or mutant, but a feature of human life. The scientists can test and analyse and retest for differences all day long, but they cannot call differences defects or errors or mutants without common sense calling them on it.

Bruce Hayden said...

I was actually surprised at how high the number was. But as Crimso (and MUL) pointed out, there are reasons why we don't seem them very much.

Hand in hand with this is the realization that while Darwin was mostly right, he made some small missteps.

One question that comes up is why do animals have sex? The alternative is non-sexual (or asexual) reproduction. Sex costs a lot in resources. Much more efficient to just clone. There are apparently a number of animals that do both, depending on the circumstances. And watching them switch back and forth, as a species, over time, provides some ideas of why we have sex. And part of that is that sexual reproduction has big advantages in a changing environment.

Those mutations are a big part of why we are no longer one celled organisms, or, more recently chimps. There are mutations in the germ line. The organism has sex. The resulting offspring has those mutations. And if they are profitable, they proliferate, and if not, they may die out (or not, depending on the circumstances).

Actually, the later is also interesting, since there are mutations that are sometimes good, and sometimes bad. Sickle Cell Anemia is one of those. It is good when there is a lot of malaria around. But bad when there isn't.

Crimso said...

The term "mutant" is not from a biochemical standpoint necessarily a negative one. Is does in fact mean "different."

traditionalguy said...

crimso...I accept that saying that we are all mutants means only means that we are all different. I also comprehend that Darwin's selection engine depends upon differences making a fitter survivor that leads to the death of all of the less fit. That became the Nazi ideology, with an added factor by the Nazis of innate Psychic Powers being the really important fitter vs. less fitter criteria for a people's survival. Hitler's guys intended to prove their theory in practice by using modern killing weapons against those labeled inferiors. Anyway, the popular use of "mutant" or "defective" when you only mean a difference from one's parents really needs a new vocabulary.

montana urban legend said...

I think it's pretty clear that sexual reproduction greatly enhances the amount of diversity among individuals in a population, and hence, helps to drive evolution.

montana urban legend said...

There are unfortunately connotations that words have in popular discourse that they lack when used in a technical, biological context.

montana urban legend said...

Re: Sickle cell anemia (and many other examples), whether or not a certain form of a gene is advantageous depends entirely upon the context provided by the environment in which it is expressed.

montana urban legend said...

Well, almost entirely.

Crimso said...

"I think it's pretty clear that sexual reproduction greatly enhances the amount of diversity among individuals in a population, and hence, helps to drive evolution."

Yes, and it feels good!

"There are unfortunately connotations that words have in popular discourse that they lack when used in a technical, biological context."


Agreed, and trad.guy is correct in that the popular view is negative ("fleshy-headed mutant").

"Sickle cell anemia"

Great example.

Jason (the commenter) said...

traditionalguy: My point is that new things appearing is not erroneous or mutant, but a feature of human life.

Sounds a lot like "it's not a defect, it's a feature."

To give you some insight on this, genes contain information. Random changes in information can lead to a loss of information. And it probably is a good idea for people to have negative attitudes towards this type of thing; if they see something is mutagenic they know to stay away from it lest they develop cancer or risk having children with birth defects.

Illness and pain are parts of human life too, and I wouldn't reproach people for speaking ill of them.

kentuckyliz said...

We have sex because God wants us to have fun. :-)

OK, so if I've had three primary cancers (no mets), I'm the Queen of the Mutants, aren't I?

WV bilvers
The name of my English butler.

Bilvers! Bring me a scotch, rocks!

Crimso said...

Does seem a bit much. Could all have a common mutation that helped them along Malignancies require at least several mutations to have occurred, but mutations in, e.g., DNA repair systems would make additional mutations (and therefore the possibility of cancers) more likely. Your DNA might actually be worth studying; is anyone doing so?

traditionalguy said...

Jason...Saying that the genes are only information seems acceptable as is your definition of Mutant as a variation that loses some information valued by someone. Lost in translation implies that men are devolving fast, and that we need to intervene. But I notice that Science has just caught up to its tail again by falling into Eugenics aimed at favoring genetic information ( The Word ) of one set of men over the survial of another set of men. Will the future Trig Palins, much less the Jews, soon need protection from smiling genetic Science Panelists?