Genetic mutation is a subject of much speculation and controversy, as new discoveries are frequently being made. In particular, mutations in animals have been discredited by those whose school of thought is that mutations are not spontaneous, but induced in labs, hazardous to the victimized organism. Before making the assertion that mutations are only the intentional workings of “mad scientists” that are often portrayed in sci-fi films, consider first what mutations actually are.
Genes are DNA segments that contain instructions essential for cell growth and development, as well as function. A mutation itself is a permanent alteration in a gene’s DNA or RNA sequence. In actuality, genetically mutated traits in animals can be inherited or obtained later in life via replication errors or environmental factors, natural or human-provoked. Genetic mutations are said to either be beneficial, harmful or have little to no effect on an organism at all, similar to the effects of mutations in humans, which might not be all that surprising considering that the genetic makeup and cell organelles of humans are similar to those of animals. Some mutations, especially those that are methodically induced, can be beneficial to humans but hazardous to animals. In general, nearly 70 percent of genetic mutations are harmful.
Some animals have mutations that allow their bodies to develop or be contorted into abnormal shapes (frogs, for example, may have extra limbs, which often prove to be more of a hindrance than an advantage), while others may undergo an unusual color change, which may result in a new species entirely, especially if an animal traverses from one habitat to another, in which it has not formed the necessary adaptations. For example, colored lobsters are being spotted more and more as the preference of red lobsters for cuisine interests increases. A lobster’s hue may also change if it has been in a polluted environment long enough for the alteration to take effect.
In another example, the protein myostatin (MSTN) negatively affects muscle growth in humans and animals (e.g., cattle, mice, sheep and dogs), causing hyper-muscularity—muscles that grow larger than necessary—and mutations associated with MSTN may cause certain functions to fail or to be absent entirely. Scientists induce this protein into fish such as rainbow trout in order to enlarge fish for edible portions.
Although experiments in genetic mutation have come under much speculation and scrutiny for many years, genetic mutation is a relatively new scientific field. Supporters argue that, although genetic mutation may have a negative impact on certain specimens, it is ultimately beneficial and necessary to meet the needs of people with various kinds of genetic-related diseases. That being said, there are still many genetic diseases that do not have a definite cure. With ever-increasing advancements in modern technology, however, new discoveries can be made and understanding of the field enhanced to address this issue. Even so, genetic mutation is a current controversial issue, and whether there is a definite solution to the ethics of genetic testing and experimentation is uncertain, but not too many can argue against the fact that it is an interesting field of study with the potential to achieve much for humanity, despite the setbacks.