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see mutationmutation,
in biology, a sudden, random change in a gene, or unit of hereditary material, that can alter an inheritable characteristic. Most mutations are not beneficial, since any change in the delicate balance of an organism having a high level of adaptation to its environment
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a physical or chemical substance that causes permanent hereditary change.

Physical mutagens include ultraviolet radiation and all kinds of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays, X rays, protons, and neutrons. High and low temperatures are much less capable of causing mutations.

As study intensifies, the list of compounds with mutagenic action grows longer. Among the chemical mutagens are many alkylating compounds, for example, mustard gas, dimethyl sulfate, and nitrosomethylurea; analogs of nitrogenous bases of the nucleic acids, for example, 5-bromouracil and 2-aminopurine; acridine dyes; nitrous acid; some alkaloids; formaldehyde; hydrogen peroxide and some organic peroxides; and some bio-polymers, for example, heterologous DNA and, apparently, heterologous RNA.

The most powerful chemical mutagens, which increase the frequency of mutations hundreds of times, are called super-mutagens. Some viruses might also be considered chemical mutagens, since the mutagenic factor in viruses seems to be located in their DNA or RNA.

Mutagens are apparently universal, that is, they can cause mutations in all forms of life—from viruses and bacteria to the higher plants, animals, and man. Various species differ in their mutability, that is, their sensitivity to mutagens. None of the known mutagens appear to have a lower limit of mutagenic action. However, the frequency of induced mutations decreases with the decreasing dose of mutagen to a point that matches the frequency of spontaneous mutations regularly occurring in the absence of any mutagen.

Physical and chemical mutagens are widely used in breeding agriculturally useful plants and useful microorganisms. Once the mutation is induced, the mutant is artificially removed from the population and bred as a separate species. These mutations are used in artificial selection.


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An agent that raises the frequency of mutation above the spontaneous or background rate.


a substance or agent that can induce genetic mutation
References in periodicals archive ?
Ames mutagenicity and concentration of the strong mutagen 3-chloro-4-(dichloromethyl)-5-hydroxy-2(5h)-furanone and of its geometric isomer e-2-chloro-3-(dichloromethyl)-4-oxo-butenoic acid in chlorine-treated tap waters.
Lack of interaction of single strand breaks in mammalian cells by sodium azide and its proximal mutagens.
This result shows that mutagens other than Trp-P1 also could have been bound to bacterial cells which in turn lowered the fecal and urinary mutagenicity of rats.
Different methods are available to investigate the effect of mutagens on plants.
Use of metabolically competent human hepatoma cells for the detection of mutagens and antimutagens.
Salmonella typhimurium strain TA100 differentiates several classes of carcinogens and mutagens by base substitution specificity.
In the several articles that follow, Kaul and Kirmala present useful descriptions of the types of genetic changes that can be induced by mutagen treatments, and they also list effective chemical mutagens with information on their known mechanisms of action on DNA; however, they neglected mention of azide, one of the safest, effective mutagens, though azide was listed by Siddiqui in his report.
MX, whose initials stand for ''unknown mutagen,'' was detected for the first time in tap water in Finland and the United States in the late 1980s and in Japan in 1990.
Ingestion of these compounds may result in their adsorption in the plasma membrane lipid bilayer, which could adversely affect the membrane permeability toward the known mutagen mitomycin C and disrupt cellular activity of the latter (Guevera et al.
During roasting, coffee develops a small amount of benzo (a) pyrene, a strong mutagen and carcinogen which is released during extraction and brewing.
Quercetin was initially discovered in red wine because of its trait as a mutagen -- a substance that mutates cells.