1. Birmingham
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    Birmingham Active Member

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    Science of mutations

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Birmingham, May 7, 2015.

    I'm looking through google for stuff about mutations, and I must say I don't understand much of what is said. I was wondering if any of you know of a cool website or book that deals with it.

    Here's the deal: I'm thinking of a story that involves superheroes etc. It's very character driven, and that's what I care about and am totally in control of, but I have to think of some mutations, and also explain some of the science behind it. It's the same old cliche that you saw in Smallville or the contemporary version of "The Flash" (2014 TV show). Bunch of people mutated due to one event, and some of them are taking advantage of the rest of us because of their power.

    Btw, just another passing thought that I was wondering your take on... Whatever mutations I'll come up with, it makes sense, I think, that it'll be an identical mutation for all people afflicted, right? I mean, it doesn't make sense that one guy controls the weather and another guy reads minds, when they were both hit by the same mysterious phenomenon.
     
  2. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'm a mutant. I have 6 lumbar vertebra. Mysteriously it hasn't given me any super powers, just the ability to throw my back out with little effort.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It doesn't work that way in real life. It's pure fiction, so don't worry about it, just make something up and you'll be fine.
     
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  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, the mutations of the sort you see in superhero movies are so far beyond the pale in terms of anything that even remotely makes sense scientifically that I'd just forget about that aspect. It's 100% fantasy and you can just run with it.
     
  5. Spencer Rose
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    Spencer Rose Member

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    Accessing different "unused" regions of the brain is always a popular idea when it comes to powers and manipulation of matter.

    In Parasite Eve the antagonist could "burn" people by forcing the mitochondria in their bodies to gather in insane densities, thusly and creating heat, and making them melt.

    Just give your story a healthy dose of pseudoscience and call it a day.
     
  6. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    I was in the hospital last evening visiting my mom. My dad was there and we were talking and my dad said something that one of the doctors told him a while back and that was we have drugs that are incredibly dangerous and you wouldn't believe the things that they can do.

    I made a note of that in my little nerdy writer's notebook I carry with me at all times.

    medical drugs get stolen or perhaps its an inside job from a doctor that mixes a few of these up.

    "OH... that's what my dad meant when he told me I'm special!"
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Spencer Rose that kind of thing bugs me more than if the author is just silent on the mechanism. The mitochondria thing doesn't make even a small bit of sense and just raises a bunch of other questions.
     
  8. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    1. I agree completely with @GingerCoffee and @Steerpike. These kinds of mutations are so far off the chart that you can just go along with it and no one will ask any questions.
    2. Mutations are random changes/anomalies that occur within the DNA and are manifested when the DNA is replicated. The probability that the exact same mutation would occur in several people that experience the same event is incredibly low. Since every cell does have metres worth of DNA it's unlikely even that a single individual would have a single mutation manifested throughout their body (it'd rather be millions different mutations spread throughout their cells).

    So, I'd say just write it the way you want to. There is no way to explain super powers through mutations, so there is no reason you would have to. :)
     
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  9. Alecion
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    Alecion Member

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    Explanation on mutation:
    Well mutation happen all the time, even if you right now, basically what happens is that when the DNA in the cell is replicated some minor mistake is made, each group of 3 nucleotides (A T G C, what makes up the DNA) code for a certain substance.
    that mistake can cause 4 thing to happen:
    1. the code does change but the substance it corresponds to is the same as the previous code, no sighted mutation.
    2. the code changes and the substance is different, the mutation is minor though and not noticeable as the gene didn't impact anything visible and sometimes nothing at all.
    3.the code changes and the substance is different, the mutation is visible, the eye color gene was affected, the bone generating gene was affected, the growth hormone regulator, the blood cell gene... many many things may change depending on what the gene was responsible for
    4. the code changes and the substance is different, the change is by coincidence generating a new substance in the body, like a glow in the dark one... thats very very unlikely because it takes a long chain to create something like glowing in the dark but if the change fits it fits.
    btw there is a 5, the gene was an important one and the person dies because of this, but thats no fun, also there is a 6... there are a few codes that are STOP, meaning stop making the substances in this chain, meaning no melanin for instance hence very dark eyes, or no pigment hence totally white everywhere.


    Anyways now that you know some stuff...
    Powers!
    possible powers:
    1. Multiple limbs
    2. Giant factor
    3. Armored skin, either with tough skin or bone or even metal, its possible.
    4. Sharper senses
    5. Sharp claws
    6. The ability to expel methane (highly contestable)
    7.Bone blades coming out of the body
    8.Devil horns
    9. Eyes changing eye color

    there are really many many options...
    I learned Chemistry, Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology, feel free to PM me if you want me to help you with figuring out how to explain your ideas for powers in humans (in other words how the ability might have developed)
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The problem is not that mutations don't occur, nor is the problem that the same mutations would not occur in different people.

    And you can turn a gene on or off with a single mutation.

    But you don't get magical results, you get semi-predictable changes. You don't get changes like the following or if you do they are not likely to be an advantage. Perhaps I am misunderstanding your claims here.

    1. Multiple limbs​
    Good luck with that, and extra digit is likely to be functional, an entire limb however, is only seen when an egg fails to properly divide and most often the extra limbs are not functional.
    2. Giant factor​
    With a single mutation, again, you could get something like a flaw with growth hormone, but all sorts of other negative consequences occur besides just growing larger.
    3. Armored skin, either with tough skin or bone or even metal, its possible.​
    Are you serious? Am I misunderstanding your post and you only mean one could pretend this was a scientific and not just a fictional explanation?
    4. Sharper senses​
    There is a range of senses between individuals for a reason, that's the extent of possibilities given the whole of our genomes.
    5. Sharp claws​
    In humans? And what do you mean by sharper?
    6. The ability to expel methane (highly contestable)​
    Like what, a fire-breathing dragon?
    7.Bone blades coming out of the body​
    No, just no.
    8.Devil horns​
    If by this you mean some odd bone deformity, sure. What good is it?
    9. Eyes changing eye color​
    As in over and over? No, not going to happen.

    There are 3 billion base pairs in the human genome. Very few single mutations are significant. If they were we'd be a whole population of dysfunctional mutants. Evolution in a slowly reproducing animal like the human species takes thousands of years. Yes, you can get single mutation changes like extra fingers or toes. You can have single mutations that cause various small things with huge consequences like changing the shape of red blood cells or the protein on the surface of a cell, or even bone deformities. But more often than not such gene abnormalities consist of whole sequences that are mutated, not single mutations that occurred in one generation.

    Which reminds me, the changes would be in offspring, not in exposed adults or children.

    But the vast majority of our physical features are the result of many many nucleic acid sequences in combination. It takes many mutations in succession to get changes such as better senses or larger muscles. And, here's the key, you need selection pressures pushing the genome shift in a particular direction and thousands of years for almost any beneficial change to be completed.

    I think what people are failing to understand here is just how evolution works. With the mutations in fiction like the gazillion stories that use this mechanism for their story, if we really were that easily mutated, one would not need an 'event' for it, our species would be one mess of bizarre beings.

    Human evolution is so much slower and complex than that. You need random mutations, selection pressures and lots and lots of generations.

    Now if you are a chicken, apparently one can turn a dormant gene on and get scales or teeth. But you won't get a healthy animal, or even a live one.

    Chicken with teeth:
    This trait is lethal, meaning that such mutants are never born, but some incubate in eggs as long as 18 days.

    While still fictional, if you wanted to get closer to a believable story and be a tad more original, you could go the old-genetic-history-revived route.

    QUEST story on how scientists can figure out ancient DNA from modern DNA
     
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  11. Alecion
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    Alecion Member

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    yeah a single mutation is very very very very unlikely to cause anything major...
    but mutations easily happen, even oxygen causes them (oxidization changing the electrical charge leading to a different form of Dna because of bonding difficulty or matching leading to enzymes to not work hence)
    its possible that many mutation would occur in close proximity.
    Were talking about a story here so:
    1. Multiple limbs
    An extra limb isnt only seen in case of failed eggs, it can be an error in an early stage of development, and even though its usually not usable who says it cant be?
    we know how to change normal cells back into cells that can change into any kind of cell so its possible although improbable that an extra limb could be grown during adulthood
    2. Giant factor
    Right, usually being that big is hard on the heart and the lungs what with the longer length oxygen and nutrients need to travel and all the extra blood, that's why bugs can only be so big, there oxygen system is very primitive hence they can only get so big... but still its possible to be really huge and with a bit of luck having an enlarged heart and a higher capability lungs, again, highly improbable yet possible.
    3. Armored skin, either with tough skin or bone or even metal, its possible.
    Though skin made up of layers of dead skin like on the legs of people who walk without shoes is possible.
    there's actually a condition where bone grows like hair on the skin, bone is basically calcium and it can happen due to a mutation of the gene that the calcium would gather on the skin itself
    about metal? well I went a bit far there, basically you consume elements that are considered metals all the time and there could be a mutation that moves them to the top of the skin.... well I went too far I admit XD
    4. Sharper senses
    Right, but there is a mutation for instance that allows women to see 10,000 more colors, a mutation in the structure of the ear, things like that
    5. Sharp claws

    6. The ability to expel methane (highly contestable)
    cows and humans (30%) alike create methane which they extrude in feces, so if a mutation allows methane to bond to cells and naturally be expelled trough the skin lets say, well don't light a fire near that guy.
    7.Bone blades coming out of the body
    bones can grow out of their shape, bone cancer for instance is a classic example of that, so growing out and going out of the skin? breaking and becoming sharp?
    also there is a frog that breaks its leg and attacks with the broken bone to cut and pierce, possible.
    8.Devil horns
    I dont know what its good for............ scaring people?
    9. Eyes changing eye color
    A mutation causing high melanin production and a mutation of the enzymes that break melanin apart (making them turn on and off at times), its possible.

    lastly we wont only see the changes in the children, gene therapy works because the results are not only for the next generation
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think most of those changes are preposterous, and best left without explanation. The more you try to formulate some kind of explanation for changes that really aren't susceptible to a rational explanation, the more it harms the story, in my view.

    It's easy enough to say Peter Parker gets bit by an irradiated spider, and gains powers. Or that Bruce Banner gets irradiated and becomes The Hulk. People are used to that sort of thing in the superhero genre and will go with it. If the creators of Spiderman had tried to give us some kind of DNA-mutation based explanation, detailing how Parker got his new powers, it wouldn't have worked. The explanations would have seemed foolish and would have raised a hundred "what about this" questions.

    I'm not sure what the benefit of trying to detail superheroes in terms of science is supposed to be, but the more detail you get into the bigger problem you create for yourself. The mitochondria idea from the game mentioned above just seems so ridiculous that it would make me think less of it than if they hadn't tried so hard to explain it.
     
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  13. Spencer Rose
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    @Steerpike I totally agree about the mitochondria. It didn't make sense to me either, but it wasn't a crucial part of the game and while I felt it was strange I still enjoyed the game. I meant it only as an example of explaining mutations/powers. I did not mean to imply that I supported it, nor was I trying to offend.
     
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  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    No problem - I wasn't offended. It wouldn't stop me playing the game, either, if the game was enjoyable. But I guess I'd shake my head at the attempt to explain the powers.
     
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  15. GingerCoffee
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    This is not in question. What the problem is, is expecting some sophisticated changes from the mutation alone, ignoring the role selection pressures and multiple generations play.

    This assumes the cumulative interacting genetic mutations need to be adjacent to each other or even on the same gene. And given infants get two of each gene with the exception of the X and Y genes, it would have to be a dominant gene to even be expressed.

    Significant single mutations are most likely going to affect certain proteins rather than whole body parts.

    Yes, an error in the dividing zygote or blastocyst can cause duplicate body parts from legs to abdominal organs.
    Dipygus
    If it were just a mutation, we'd see more cases. They are rare because they take a combination of events occurring together.

    Nonsense. For this to happen it would take a whole lot more than some miraculous genetic mutations.

    This is all naive. If you have a biology degree I suspect you are lacking some perspective. Perhaps you've heard the saying, keep an open mind but not so open your brain falls out.
     
  16. Alecion
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    Alecion Member

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    "This is all naive. If you have a biology degree I suspect you are lacking some perspective. Perhaps you've heard the saying, keep an open mind but not so open your brain falls out."
    Well I don't agree with that saying, an open mind is something you either have or not, either you use it right coupled with rationality or your just believing anything you hear...
    If you can prove me wrong, that any of the things I brought up are immobile (not improbable) then im happy to hear.
    When im capable of turning cells green or luminescent myself and induce mutations in trees I believe that almost anything can happen by natures hand, what we know is far too little.
    Oh and btw you seem like you think you know some stuff so basically your in medicine, not a doctor because then you'll cause me much more of a headache... either a paramedic or a nurse?
    Sure for those into medicine what I say would be written off as preposterous but for Biotech people its really not too off, after all they see how easy it is to add properties to organisms, and while the outcome could be horrendous sometimes for the organism (death) at other times it fits well, so my motto is "chances and luck are come under repetition" in a story we can easily throw that away and go straight to lucky one shot success
    But its a story so im going to stop debating if im right or not...
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2015
  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    May I just add, in my experience, nurses are often far more invaluable than a doctor, and often know more than the doctor. In a hospital environment, inevitably it is actually the nurses and healthcare assistants who get thankyou cards and gifts from patients and patients' families because they are the ones who actually look after the patient, who actually interact with them. Nurses and other healthcare staff are the ones who need to know medicine dosage and intervals of when to take the meds, who need to know the detailed history so as to give proper care. They're the ones who know the details - and frankly, the ones you really don't wanna piss off. A good nurse is precious, and not to be looked down on.

    I find this whole scientific mutation argument odd, in any case. It is fiction - anything can happen. However, the moment you wanna make it scientifically plausible, then you have to keep in mind what people in the real world would believe. The simple argument of "It's improbable but not impossible" isn't good enough if you want it to be realistic and want it to be believed. The problem isn't whether it's impossible - as I said, it's fiction, so who cares? - the problem is the moment you claim that it's scientific, you're gonna have to pass some rigorous analysis. And ignoring that analysis in favour of "Well, it's not impossible!" just isn't good enough - with that argument you might as well just say, "It's fiction!" Because in the end, the latter is actually more convincing. If you're not pretending it could be realistic, you're more likely to be forgiven for your ideas, however preposterous, because people write and read fiction for their possibilities, even outlandish ones.

    But claim it's scientific and you gotta go through a whole lot of other hoops that simply saying, "It's not impossible" just isn't gonna cut it.

    In the end, you're writing a book and you as the author has the responsibility of convincing your readers. If 80-90% of your readers will have an objection to your reasoning behind a phenonmenon, you can argue till the cows come home and still write exactly as you wish - your book after all - but that doesn't mean those people would give you good reviews or read your next book. It's only your own reputation on the line in the end.
     
  18. Alecion
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    Alecion Member

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    Right, nurses are great and your right they often have more practical knowledge and experience.
    And I do agree... it not being impossible to happen by nature isnt a good argument, you got me there :)
    Anyways its not even my idea :X
     
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  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    To put it another way, it's like you are arguing radiation could make giant ants, spiders and Godzilla and lightning really could reanimate a dead body.

    Immobile? Did you mean, impossible?

    It's a very long way from manipulating genes in the laboratory and having a drastic viable genetic change occur by random chance. I think that's where you are going wrong here. Can you get a bioluminescent kitten by radiating pregnant cats? No, you have to manipulate whole genetic segments.

    Microorganisms can do this. Antibiotic resistance can be transferred between different species via bacteriophages. Gene therapy, (which is not yet very successful), involves using a virus (or other vehicles) to transfer the genetic information to multiple cells throughout the body. It's not going to happen after birth in an organism from a mutation.

    Cause you a headache? Like what, if I'm a doctor you're intimidated but as a nurse I can't know what I'm talking about?:confused:

    I'm a tad sensitive about such false perceptions of nurses. :) I'm a nurse practitioner, the kind with a license to diagnose and treat patients and more than 20 years in private practice in the infectious disease field. Did you know one can get a doctorate in nursing science? Did you know that Florence Nightingale was credited as being one of the leading scientists of her day? She was a statistician and analyzed data on wound healing, advancing the knowledge of best treatment for war injuries. I'm going to write a book on nursing history after I finish my two fiction novels. :D

    No one is arguing that there isn't a far-fetched, not actually plausible device used in fiction where in authors use the word, mutant, and contrive all sorts of monsters and superheroes.

    To sum up the key difference: purposeful genetic manipulation is a whole different ballgame from random, luck of the draw mutations which require selection pressures and sequential changes over many generations to get anything remotely close to giant ants, shrews or spiders.:p
     
  20. Birmingham
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    Birmingham Active Member

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    Okay, I appreciate your help, but from reading several of your comments, I don't think we're completely on the same page here. And what you're saying about what already exists in popular culture is simply inaccurate. I wish it was!
    When you look at shows like "The Flash" (1990 or 2014) there are actual scientific lingo and conversations. The scientists never say "well, you're fast. Good night." There is even an addressing of the glucose levels of Barry Allen, which is totally relatable to real life, because he is simply running more than ever, and faster than ever, so he needs to eat more to remain strong. In "Gotham" there is an episode in which people's bodies burn too much calcium, which causes a craving for dairy, super-strength, and eventual weakness and death. So yeah, it's all pure fantasy, but it overlaps with reality. I'm sure that scientists in the Superman movies, when examining his body and genes, have SOME comments about that. And that's all I need. SOME comments. Because my protagonist is the kind of person who would go and check up. It's important to who he is and what motivates him. I wish to hell it wasn't. Because I do want to focus on things I'm strong at, and not things I'm weak at.

    Every single change, whether it happens in a moment or over a year, will cause some scientists and doctors to notice it. If you get a general check up, then spend the next 6 months eating healthy and exercising, you think doctors will never notice changes in your body? Yes, they would.

    All of this stuff I"m asking about might be used for a couple of pages or even a couple of paragraphs, but I need some place to start at. Telling me that my premise about mutations in literature is false (even though it's clearly true) will not help me get anywhere. So, again, I appreciate you trying to help, but I need help in solving my problem through research, and not through reasons why it's more conducive to abandon that potential research.
     
  21. Birmingham
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    Okay, I'm reading some more comments, and I see that many of you are engaging me on this. Thank you. It might help me even if I don't understand a lot of the science. I can simply tell it through the eyes of the protagonist, who is completely lost (like me) and have that protagonist give a layman explanation. This way it'll be accessible both to readers who understand the science behind mutations, as well as readers who are, like me, completely lost :)
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    If you think your premise is true, can you cite anything that supports it other than your understanding of it? It might help us see where you are coming from.
     

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