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The Causes of Mutations

Mutations happen for several reasons.

  1. DNA fails to copy accurately.
    Most of the mutations that we think matter to evolution are “naturally-occurring.” For example, when a cell divides, it makes a copy of its DNA—and sometimes the copy is not quite perfect. That small difference from the original DNA sequence is a mutation.
  2. External influences can create mutations.
    Mutations can also be caused by exposure to specific chemicals or radiation. These agents cause the DNA to break down. This is not necessarily unnatural—even in the most isolated and pristine environments, DNA breaks down. Nevertheless, when the cell repairs the DNA, it might not do a perfect job of the repair. So the cell would end up with DNA slightly different than the original DNA and hence, a mutation.
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Explore further
•  Reviewing DNA
•  Types of mutations
•  Case study: sickle cell anemia

Teach this!
Lesson plans for teaching about mutation

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Gene Flow


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Spanish translation of Understanding Evolution For Teachers from the Spanish Society of Evolutionary Biology.