Mutation: The Science of Survival

Mutation: The Science of Survival

2003, Nature  -   26 Comments
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Ratings: 8.02/10 from 46 users.

Monster mutants lurk in the myths of many cultures, and we're fascinated yet fearful of nature's mutants. But mutants are closer to home than we think. Often invisible, mutations are happening all around us, in every living thing. They're crucial part of evolution. Now researchers are uncovering how mutations actually work and that may help us find cures for life threatening diseases. As we understand more about mutation we may discover more secrets of the history and future of life on this planet.

In 19th century America, people flocked to dime museums to view the odd and the unexplained. Dime museums were full of anything the American public would pay 10 cents to see. People were always been interested in the weird, the strange, the bizarre, the exotic and the unusual. For just 10 cents they came to see the worst that nature had on offer. Some creatures were fake products of an entrepreneur's imagination, but others brought us face to face with real mutations.

In Great Britain there was a celebrated sideshow freak Joseph Merrick, the famed elephant man. A tragic mutation within his genes gave rise to a disease called Proteus Syndrome. Large bony growths covered the right side of his entire body. A mutation is a change in our genes. Deep within every cell, our chromosomes hold the instructions for life and the genes are held on long and delicate strands of DNA.

They're like a recipe book, but sometimes there's an unexpected change in part of the recipe. The result is an altered or damaged gene that we call a mutation. For Joseph Merrick the mutation was so severe, he could never lead a normal life. He spent his adult years as a sideshow freak until he was rescued and offered shelter at the Royal London Hospital. His short life ended at the age of 28.

Toady such human tragedies are no longer a source of entertainment, but many of us are still fascinated by creatures that are one in a million. In West Fork, Arkansas, Fred Lally has spent 50 years collecting some of the most unusual reptiles. Fred has been fascinated by reptilian oddities all his life, and he now makes a living by taking his mutant pets on tour to summer county fairs. But of all the animal anomalies he encountered in his long career one stands hand a shoulders above the rest. Fred paid $20,000 for one of the rarest reptiles in the world - the snake named "Golden Girls."

In nature conjoined twins are rare, but they nearly always make the slot at the end of the evening news bulletins. In humans, if the embryo hasn't divided by the third week of pregnancy, then Siamese or conjoined twins may result. They're among the rarest of human beings. Only a few hundred pairs are born each year, more than half are stillborn and may live for only a few days. But are conjoined twins actually caused by mutation? Whether conjoined twins are mutations or not they're only the tip of the mutation iceberg. Mutations are happening every day to all of us, but most of the time they're invisible.

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Dan
Dan
6 years ago

There's some crazy comments on here over a documentary made well over 14 years ago. Just to put some sanity out there.....science and religion are two separate things. It's cute when religious people try to make out that nature is their toy because "god created it", when really if you think about it's the one thing that completely blows the idea of any god existing, out of the water. Natural disasters, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, tsunami's......all things that are too powerful for an all powerful deity to stop. Just shows how pathetic the rantings and conclusions of poorly educated men were. It makes fabulous fiction...but it's a part of fictional history nontheless. Imagine if some futuristic tribe found harry potter.....would we all be worshipping daniel radcliffe as harry reincarnated?

Tom Carberry
Tom Carberry
9 years ago

This documentary has very interesting information about mutations, but I don't buy the "survival of the fittest" or the positive mutation, as the fossil record belies both.

The giant dinosaurs didn't die out because of unfit genes, they died because of an earth destroying asteroid.

And most of the large land creatures today, have descended from much larger, fitter animals, including humans.

The idea that a population bottleneck will lead to something good just doesn't play out. Inbreeding leads to pejorative mutations.

I believe the ultimate answer may lie in genetics, but the stuff discussed in this documentary seems wrong.

And this documentary completely ignores the endocrine system in mutations. As many or more mutations probably occur from endocrine errors as with gene errors. Look at Jaws from the James Bond movies, with an endocrine condition called acromegaly, which affects many people, where the pituitary produces too much growth hormone.

Richard Neva
Richard Neva
10 years ago

Another blatant example of how US Wars have altered the genetic make up of fellow human beings. As America continues making war on humans we can expect even more horrors.

Ryan Parks
Ryan Parks
10 years ago

A mutation is simply when a gene in DNA changes, not some two headed freakshow that was a result of twin embryos merging together, since the genetics in those may otherwise be normal.
A good example of a recessive mutations is albinism, which can occur in all vertebrates and is a result of pigment genes being damaged, lost, or altered, which results in a different outcome of color.
So, like many things, it is not what hollywood is going to make it to be. Real mutations are nothing like "X-Men."

Tobias MacRobie
Tobias MacRobie
10 years ago

I don't much care for how they use the words mutation and damage interchangeably. I also don't much care for their explanation of UV radiation on DNA (the T-T dimers), which they kinda skip that and just use some scary cancer terms. yay! So, um, viewer beware, this is a show about - not mutations -. That's right, it has to do with failed cellular process, and selective breeding. Somehow, this equates to mutagenics. It's one part practical medicine (read; outdated and proud medicine), coupled with hollywood scare tactics, because viewers want cheap thrills. Please, if you watch this, don't make a fool of yourself by talking about mutations in terms of the content of this video. They have run afoul.

Jenna Ducommun
Jenna Ducommun
10 years ago

Just wondering if this is a good documentary to watch? I've noticed most people are putting comments to what they think personally compared to how good this one was...

Robin Wright
Robin Wright
10 years ago

what is most amazing is that there is a free element that goes around correcting defects in the DNA - Unless this is all a bit of the scientific imagination, the existence of such a corrective element that tries to patch over the bad links and makes sure the DNA strands are OK is beyond belief. Creation or evolution - it does not, in the end, matter, - what is extraordinary is the thoroughness with which life contains systematic auto-corrective mechanisms for survival. But, how does this element "KNOW" WHEN something is not right ??? It is just too incredible

Carl Hendershot
Carl Hendershot
10 years ago

Nevadas bomb drops hurt many people long after and is rarely remembered... This is not too downgrade the drops in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was said that they might ignite the entire atmosphere around the world and still they were tested and dropped... What does this say about your so called elected leaders.

robertallen1
robertallen1
10 years ago

A propos of this documentary. There is a recent news item entitled "Two-Faced Kitten Born in Oregon." Perhaps a link should be created for it.

dmxi
dmxi
10 years ago

is a mute ant a mutant ?

His Forever
His Forever
10 years ago

It's on my bucket list for tomorrow.

Glen
Glen
10 years ago

Thank God for nature