How Easily Mutations Arise

Art & Research: Xiaoying Wu

Further Reading Literature: Xiaoying Wu

External causes of mutations

Mutation sounds like a scary word and we often hear that it occurs to people in rare cases. However, mutations can actually occur very easily over the course of life, depending on genetics or our life habits (Medline Plus). Mutations can potentially come from external sources such as sunlight, radiation, chemicals, tobacco products, processed foods, and overcooked foods (Frontiers for Young Minds). Keep in mind that not all mutations will harm you! It would require many mutations over lifetime to be harmful. Furthermore, most mutations do not negatively affect our health (Medline Plus). 

Why do mutations happen?

Mutations happen when you are constantly exposed to the mutagens over long periods of time. Increased exposure to mutagens can cause mistakes to occur in DNA replication (Medline Plus). The cell's repair system is not perfect, so at times mutations will result. Different types of mutations include a substitution, insertion, and deletion (yourgenome).

Avoid prolonged sunlight exposure

Increased sunlight exposure can cause thymine dimers in the DNA, which can disrupt DNA replication and lead to mutation (Frontiers for Young Minds). If you must be exposed to sunlight, wear sunscreen daily in order to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays. 

Avoid radiation and mutagenic chemicals

Radiation can damage genetic material and some chemicals contain mutagens (Frontiers for Young Minds). If we must expose ourselves to radiation and/or chemicals, we should wear the proper protection such as goggles, gloves, masks, etc. For instance, we wear a protective vest whenever we get a dental x-ray at the dentist.

Avoid tobacco products

Tobacco products contain carcinogens, which have the potential for causing cancer (Frontiers for Young Minds). Therefore, it is highly recommended to avoid smoking and/or chewing tobacco. It is also suggested to avoid second-hand smoking.

Avoid highly processed and overcooked foods

Highly processed foods have been studied to be linked to cancer (WedMD). As a result, we should avoid eating processed foods often and lean towards natural foods such as vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, etc. When meats are cooked at extremely high temperatures, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed (National Cancer Institute). HCAs and PAHs are known to be mutagens, hence we should be cautious in cooking foods at high heat, especially meats (National Cancer Institute). 

Avoid and protect!

In general, let's all remember the keywords AVOID and PROTECT! Avoid when possible and protect when necessary. Stay safe, everyone!

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