Feeds

Dawn of the X-Men? MUTANTS swarm AMONG US, say geneticists

Particularly among weirdo Europeans

The Power of One Infographic

Humanity has entered a new genetic era, according to a newly published study, with well over half the mutations found having occurred "recently". Potentially troublesome genetic changes are particularly common among those of European heritage compared to those with African forebears, the research shows.

"The recent dramatic increase in human population size, resulting in a deluge of rare functionally important variation, has important implications for understanding and predicting current and future patterns of human disease and evolution," write the authors of the new report, published in hefty boffinry mag Nature.

The study involved gene sequencing carried out on 6,500 Americans of both African and European heritage. Some 73 per cent of the rare (occurring in less than 0.1 per cent of the sample) variations had occurred during the last 5,000 years.

Mutations - genetic variations - sometimes result in improvements (or specialisations) to a human or group of humans, as with the Europeans as they moved out of Africa and became more pale-skinned to cope with the lack of sunlight. X-Men style mutations conferring the ability to shoot frikkin' lazor beams out of one's eyes aren't possible, but things like skin colour, resistance to diseases etc are.

Unfortunately a mutation is more likely to present a problem than an enhancement, and the human race in general is particularly full of them lately because of our massive population explosion over the last 5,000-odd years. Mutations are introduced in each new child (particularly if he or she has an older dad), so populations expanding fast from a small base naturally create more of them.

The relatively small group of mutant Africans who moved north into Europe have subsequently expanded in population particularly enormously, and as a result people of such stock are especially loaded with rare genetic variations.

"One of the most interesting points is that Europeans have more new deleterious (potentially disease-causing) mutations than Africans," says Dr. Suzanne Leal, professor of molecular and human genetics, one of the boffins who participated in the study.

Over the long previous history of humanity, bad mutations (or contra-reproduction ones, anyway) would be scrubbed away by people dying before they had a chance to have kids. But this is a slow process, and it has probably been slowed down even more by modern developments like buildings, farming, medicine etc, even as the rate of mutation has shot up massively.

So humanity is especially riddled with mutants (or mutier-than-normal people: everyone carries at least some mutations compared to their parents), and set to get more so. This could mean health problems - but it could also mean the future appearance of people who are truly unusual in a good (or very strange) way.

Not X-Men, in all likelihood, but perhaps something just as startling. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.