Word of the week: Mutant

Written by Science

First things first, we can probably ignore the word ‘mutant’ in relation to the homo superior race. When scientists say ‘mutant’ they can be referring to a whole variety of things – an animal, plant, microbe, virus, gene or human, which is different from the normal, or ‘wild type’.

An example of a mutant is the blue American Lobster. Normally, these lobsters are a red-brown colour, but 1 in 2 million have a mutation in their DNA which makes a protein called crustacyanin, making them blue. In the same species, 1 in 100 million are albino. These lobsters have a mutation which stops them from producing any colour pigment. Albinos have red eyes because the lack of pigment in their iris, meaning only the blood vessels in the retina are seen.

Unfortunately not all mutations cause a change in colour, and can often cause disease in humans. For example, cystic fibrosis is caused by a mutation in the CFTR gene. Gene therapy treatments are being developed, in an attempt to correct the mutant DNA.

Last modified: 15th February 2016

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