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History, Where Mutagens Exist, How Mutagens Work, Somatic Vs. Germline Mutations, Types Of Mutagens

In the living cell, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) undergoes frequent chemical change, especially when it is being replicated. Most of these changes are quickly repaired. Those that are not, result in a mutation. Thus, mutation is a failure of DNA repair. Mutagens are chemicals or physical factors (such as radiation) that increase the rate of mutation in the cells of bacteria, plants, and animals (including humans). Most mutagens are of natural origin and are not just a modern phenomenon.

Mutagens can be found in the food we eat, the air we breath, or the ground we walk on. Very small doses of a mutagen usually have little effect while large doses of a mutagen could be lethal. DNA in the nuclei of all cells encodes proteins, which play important structural and functional (metabolic) roles in the cell. Mutagens typically disrupt the DNA of cells, causing changes in the proteins that the cell produces, which can lead to abnormally fast growth (cancer), or even cell death. In rare incidences, mutagens can even cause protein changes that are beneficial to the cell.

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