Beneficial Mutations: Examples & Effects

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  • 0:00 What Are Mutations?
  • 1:18 Examples of Beneficial…
  • 3:12 Effects of Beneficial Mutation
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dominic Corsini
People often view mutations in a negative light. However, without mutations, people would not have their rich color vision, and some would not have a tolerance for lactose. This lesson describes and gives examples of beneficial mutations.

What Are Mutations?

First, let's begin with some questions. Can you digest dairy products such as milk or cheese? Do you know anyone with blue eyes? These may sound like odd questions to ask, but if you can digest milk or have blue eyes, it is because you possess a mutation in your DNA. Mutations are changes in your genetic code. DNA is the genetic material used to code for certain physical characteristics. It is made from four different molecules called bases. Those bases are represented by the letters A, T, C, and G. The complete genetic code of a human contains billions of bases! When those base sequences are changed, it's called a mutation.

Some mutations can cause detrimental conditions such as Down syndrome or Klinefelter syndrome. However, many mutations are benign, and some even irrelevant, because they exist in regions of DNA that aren't actively used. For instance, blue eyes arose from a change in the protein responsible for eye pigmentation. This is one example of a benign mutation. Occasionally, though, a mutation will occur that provides the individual with an advantage, and is actually beneficial. Let's take a closer look at some examples.

Examples of Beneficial Mutations

Beneficial mutations can be found throughout the natural world. Remember, a mutation is a change in your DNA, more specifically, a mutation that allows your DNA to create a protein that functions differently than it otherwise would. In humans, scientists have uncovered a recent mutation in the receptor proteins of the cell membrane. People possessing this mutation (though few in number) have shown a resistance to HIV. This is due to the inability of the virus to bind correctly to the host cell. Another example of beneficial mutation in humans is our rich, color vision. Humans have trichromatic vision, meaning we can discriminate between three colors: red, green and blue. Many animals have dichromatic or monochromatic vision and lack the ability to perceive all the colors we can. This ability to see multiple colors is likely the result of a beneficial mutation that occurred in our DNA several million years ago.

Beneficial mutations can also be closely associated with harmful ones. Take, for example, sickle cell disease (SCD). This disease is caused by a mutation that causes red blood cells to develop a crescent, or sickle shape; this abnormal shape can lead to a number of health problems.

It's important to note that individuals with SCD receive two copies of the mutated gene from their parents. However, if an individual receives one mutated copy that codes for SCD, and one regular copy that codes for traditional red blood cells, then the person will not develop the SCD. In fact, not only will they not develop the disease, but they will also have resistance to certain forms of malaria. Therefore, interestingly enough, the sickle cell mutation can be beneficial when people possess only one copy in their DNA.

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