Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/11/29/genetic_variations_recent_study/

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

Particularly among weirdo Europeans

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 29th November 2012 15:19 GMT

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. ®