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Noninduced Mutagenic Agents

Environmental agents can influence the mutation rate not only by increasing it, but also by decreasing it. For example, antioxidants, which are found commonly in fruits and vegetables, are thought by many to protect against mutagens that are generated by normal cellular respiration. In addition to protective agents, however, many plants also contain deleterious mutagens known as carcinogens. Many chemical mutagens exist both naturally in the environment and as a result of human activity. Benzo(a)pyrene, for example, is produced by any incomplete burning, whether of tobacco in a cigarette or of wood in forest fires.

Figure 1. First the parental males were treated and mated to females carrying the ClB X chromosome. Second, those female offspring with Bar eyes were mated individually so that only their offspring would be present in the bottle. Third, after the offspring hatched, the bottle was examined for the presence of males. There were no males with the ClB X chromosome because the l gene kills them. So, any bottles with no males represent one lethal mutation on the other X chromosome, which originated in the treated male.

Spontaneous (noninduced) mutations are very rare, and finding them is difficult because most are recessive. The recessive nature of most mutations means that they will not be evident in most of the individuals who inherit them, for they will be hidden by the presence of the dominant allele. The rarity of mutations means that many individuals must be examined to find a mutant, whether they are people, other organisms, or even cells in culture.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 3Mutagenesis - Noninduced Mutagenic Agents, Creating Mutations, The First Mutagenesis Assay, Detecting Mutations