The Difference Between Germline & Somatic Mutations

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  • 0:00 Cell Types & Mutation
  • 0:46 Germline Mutation
  • 2:02 Somatic Mutation
  • 3:19 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.

Cell mutate and different types of cells give rise to mutations with different effects. In this lesson, you will learn how a germinal mutation differs from a somatic mutation and which type can be passed down to future generations.

Cell Types & Mutation

Have you ever watched a science fiction movie? Think of a movie plot where an organism can transmit DNA to others and how that might change the population of a town. Now think of a movie plot where an organism clones itself, creating more and more alien creatures. What are the differences in these two organisms?

Each multicellular organism has two main categories of cells with characteristics similar to the two science fiction creatures we were just imagining. These two types of cells are germ cells and somatic cells. Understanding the difference in these types of cells will help you to understand the difference between the mutations that occur within each type of cell. A mutation is a random change in genetic makeup.

Germline Mutation

Germ cells are the cells that become sex cells, also known as gametes or, in humans, sperm and eggs. When gametes from two separate parent organisms join together, they create offspring. Now what if one of those germ cells had a mutation, maybe something like slimy, green skin? This is like the science fiction creature that can transmit its DNA.

When a mutation occurs in a germ cell, it is called germline mutation. Since these mutations occur in the cells that create gametes, the mutations can be passed on to offspring. The mutated DNA will exist in all of the cells of the offspring because the mutation existed in the cells that developed into the entire organism and will be passed on to any of its offspring. These mutations may be beneficial, harmful, or have no effect on the organism.

Germline mutations are most often discovered when they produce a noticeable change or a harmful genetic disorder. Diseases such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis are caused by this type of mutation. Germline mutations also cause color blindness and albinism. Each of these mutations is passed on from generation to generation after the original mutation occurs.

Somatic Mutation

If gametes are formed from germ cells, then the rest of the cells in an organism come from the other type of cell, somatic cells. When these cells reproduce, they only make exact copies of themselves. This makes a somatic cell similar to the science fiction creature that can clone itself.

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