• Question: could you explain radiation mutation please? Isn't it through the excessive multiplication of damaged cells?

    Asked by catherines to Cat, Daz on 24 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Cat O'Connor

      Cat O'Connor answered on 24 Jun 2011:

      Hi Catherines

      I’ll give it a go but i’m sure Daz will help out too!

      So you’re dead right that mutation is caused by damage to a cell, and more specifically the DNA that codes the cell and tells the cell its function and how long it can live etc.

      Mutation caused by radiation can result in a cell doing all crazy things! It can cause a cell to turn off and not work at all, it can cause it to speed up its function and keep doing so for a long time and it can cause a cell to do the reverse of what it was meant to do!

      Excessive multiplication of damaged cells is really cancer and you’re right, radiation can result in cancers being formed because the cell has speeded up its function or it’s ‘die’ button has been turned off!

      But not all mutations are bad though. The reason we evolve is because of spontaneous mutations that happen in our body (yup, we don’t need radiation to change!)!

      This is a really really short and simple answer to your question. We could chat for hours all about mutations and good ones and bad ones. But I hope this answers your question!


    • Photo: Darren Braddick

      Darren Braddick answered on 24 Jun 2011:

      Hi Catherines!

      It’s a good question. I can see why you might ask, because radiation and cancer are very often presented in the news.. Well, mutation is what we call it when our DNA is changed in some way, usually when its sequence is changed from what it should be. This happens when the proteins which copy DNA make mistakes.

      Luckily, those proteins are usually very accurate in doing their job! Unfortunately, many other things can increase the chance of mistakes – particularly chemicals and radiation. When these mutations happen, they can happen in important parts of DNA, usually parts of the DNA which are needed to produce important proteins which have functions in cell movement and cell division.

      Cancer, which is caused by genetic mutations like these things is usually the appearance of cells which no longer die properly, and also can move in weird ways. When cancer cells move, they can spread – this is called metastasis and is very very bad. The cells multiply usually very fast and without any control, which is why many drugs against cancer target rapidly growing cells – and that’s why other normal cells will die (like ones involved in your hair – which is why chemotherapy causes hair loss).

      So, cancer is certainly the product of excessive multiplication.. And radiation can be a big cause of it. Are you aware of the Chernobyl disaster, it was a malfunction in a power plant about 25 years ago, and was a very good example of radiation damage to humans from an industrial source. It is also why many people are very worried about the Fukushima accident which followed the earthquakes in Japan.

      I hope this helps answer your question 🙂 Please ask if you have any other thoughts!