The Genetics of X-Men
X-Men is a widely popular comic series, along with a continuously growing media fanbase. The movies show us that mutations are cool, that they result in supernatural powers of unimaginable abilities. The list of mutations include, the ability to control the weather (Storm), laser eye vision (Cyclops), telepathy and telekinesis (Professor X/Jean), and the ability to control metal (Magneto). These “mutants” then work together to hone their skills and choose between using it as a source of good and/or evil.
Sadly, mutants like these do not happen as such in a real world. People cannot be sporadically born with infinite strength or gain unexplained abilities overnight. For a mutation to even be visible takes many generations, and even so, the mutation will most likely result in a small gradual change, not something highly advanced and improbable.
The best way to understand the reality behind mutants is by scaling down to the minute level of DNA. DNA is the ultimate “body database,” containing all the information to make us, us. The information on DNA is copied and replicated many times over to create the cells that make up our bodies. Each DNA replication has to be extremely precise and identical to the original template. This process is monitored extremely closely in cells, because an inaccurate copy can result in many detrimental side effects, including tumors and cancers. Even with these proofreading mechanisms, mistakes sometimes do happen. This results in the creation of a DNA strand that is different from the parent strand. In this event, any mistake or miscopying is known as a mutation. In this case, we will observe point mutations in the coding region, where one small portion of the DNA is changed, but can yield many different types of consequences.
The building blocks of DNA are known as nucleotides of adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine. Since DNA is a double stranded molecule, 2 sequences of nucleotides are present. One strand represents the template strand, while the other is the coding strands. The two strands are connected through a base-pair system, in which adenine pairs with thymine and cytosine pairs with guanine. The specific order of the nucleotides are extremely important, in that they determine the resulting amino acids, which contribute to a large variety of cellular processes and function, including the formation of proteins(polypeptides). Point mutations is the alteration of a single base-pair in the DNA strand. They can either be synonymous, missense, nonsense, or insert/deletion mutations. Synonymous mutations modify the nucleotide sequence, but the resulting amino acid remains the same, creating a neutral change. Missense mutation result in the coding of a completely different amino acid. Nonsense mutations change the nucleotide coding to code a stop code, that does not generate any amino acids, and is involved in telling when the polypeptide chain should stop synthesizing amino acids. Random inserts and deletions of nucleotide sequences will also result in mutations, in which the whole reading frame for amino acids is shifted. This can result in a loss of protein structure and function.
As mistakes, mutations can either result in a positive, negative, or neutral consequence. The main message to grasp though, is that mutations happen on a very small scale, that can result in a very small or big change, in terms of human physiology and anatomy. For a mutation to grow into a species, and become a typical characteristic for the species (in terms of evolution) takes many generations. While it seems fun to be a mutant in the X-men world, it is probably best to be as normal as possible. Out-of-control mutant cells are not a desirable thing to have.