How the Environment Affects Natural Selection & Mutation

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  • 0:02 Mutation and Natural Selection
  • 0:45 Mutation and the Environment
  • 2:22 Natural Selection &…
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Environmental factors have an impact on mutation and natural selection. This lesson will discuss how the environment can interact with these processes to produce evolutionary changes.

Mutation and Natural Selection

Two key methods of evolutionary change are mutation and natural selection. Mutations are genetic changes that occur. The DNA in the offspring is altered from that of the parents, creating a new and different characteristic. This change can be harmful, beneficial, or have a neutral effect. Natural selection is the process that determines which characteristics will be inherited in a population over time. Harmful traits are less likely to be inherited which means that beneficial traits are more likely to be expressed in the population. Let's look at these ideas more closely as we continue the lesson.

Mutation and the Environment

What makes genetic changes occur? Can you be bitten by a radioactive spider and develop spider-like characteristics? You may not become spider-like, but the environment can play a role. Mutations can occur in two ways. They can happen spontaneously when copying errors occur during cell division. Mutations can also be induced by environmental factors, or mutagens. Examples would be exposure to chemicals or radiation. Environmental factors may have an influence on the rate of mutation, but they do not control what the mutation will be. The mutations themselves are random.

Let's look at an example. Medical science has learned that the more you expose bacteria to an antibiotic, the more resistant bacteria you will observe. This antibiotic resistance exists because of a genetic mutation. Does this mean that exposure to antibiotics caused the mutation? The answer is no. Experiments have found that the antibiotic resistance mutation occurs with or without the presence of the antibiotic. Since a mutation for antibiotic resistant bacteria occurs without exposure to an antibiotic, we can conclude that the bacteria did not evolve resistance because of contact with the antibiotic. In other words, mutations are not caused by being placed in a situation where the mutation may be helpful. However, environmental factors can help determine the spread of a trait caused by mutation. To examine this further, let's take a closer look at natural selection.

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