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Abominable Anomalies: World’s Most Extreme Genetic Mutations & Variations

Take a look at some weird mutations both natural and man-made. Take a look at some weird mutations both natural and man-made.


Genetic mutations are a fact of life on Earth. Without genetic variations, there would be no evolution, and we would all still be swimming around in the prehistoric sludge. When the first amphibian crawled out of that primordial soup onto dry land, doubtless its mind was on something banal – the search for food or perhaps a mate – rather than planning for the future of life on Earth. However, that one little step set into motion a chain of events that would lead to life as we know it.

Mutations, however, are not always a positive influence. From some of the worst viral outbreaks to the development of incurable cancers and other diseases, mutations have frequently proven to be more of a burden than a blessing. Much of this can be blamed, not surprisingly, on the impact of humans. We seem to have this urge to mess with nature, whether it is good for us or not, and it is just about never good for nature.

However, not all genetic mutations can be blamed on man, with many simply occurring in the natural world. We have put together a list of five of the most extreme or grotesque genetic mutations, both natural and man-made.

1. Microcephaly 

Believed to be caused by genes passed in utero from mother to child, microcephaly is a human mutation marked by a noticeably smaller brain, including extreme malformations of the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the brain. The cerebral cortex plays a vital role in thought, language, and consciousness. Children with microcephaly typically have severe learning disabilities, and require specialized education. On the flip side, studies show that people with thicker-than-average cerebral cortexes tend to suffer from migraines more than the average person.


2. Polydactyly 

It has become a cliché, but ask any new parent and they will tell you that one of the first things they did upon meeting their new addition was to count their little one's fingers and toes. These parents may not know, but the condition that they are hoping not to see is called polydactyly, which is a syndrome in which someone may have too many fingers, or those fingers that they do have are connected, as though webbed, like flippers. One of the worst cases known so far has been the story of a child in China, who was born with 16 fingers (many fused together) and 14 toes. To rectify the problem, he had to fly to England, where a team of doctors surgically removed many of his fingers, and separated the rest.


3. Conjoined Twins and Organs 

Sometimes called "Siamese Twins," though that name has been replaced with a more politically correct term, conjoined twins are incredibly rare, and equally fascinating when you look at their biology from a medical point of view. This phenomenon occurs in between one in 50 to 100 thousand births, with a slightly higher (and unexplained) incidence in Southern Asia and Africa. About half of all conjoined twins are stillborn, with another fraction having abnormalities that make it impossible to live, leading to an even greater rarity of adult conjoined twins.

In simple half-and-half situations, the twins often share organs and have to coordinate to get things done, as one person controls the right side of the body and the other controls the left.

Two theories exist as to why conjoined twins occur. The first, and older theory, is called fission, in which a fertilized egg splits only partially, leading to the attachment. The second, and more accepted theory nowadays, is that the egg succeeds in splitting, but stem cells, which search for nearby cells and mimic them, making them so valuable to science, find similar cells on the other twin fertilized egg and fuse the twins together.

...Of Double-Snouted Pigs and Mermaids on Land... There are also some cases where cells do not split correctly during cell specialization, in which case animals will end up with multiple body parts that shouldn't exist where they are or at all, like an extra snout on a pig or head on a turtle. Another rare condition, called Sirenomelia (but commonly referred to as "mermaid syndrome") is a situation where most of or the entire legs are fused together, creating what appears somewhat like a mermaid's tail. Surgery is the only option to correct this abnormality.


4. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) 

Despite appearing in nearly 75 percent of the packaged food in America, little is known about GMOs, including their impact on the environment and on the people who consume them daily. Although they are technically deemed safe by the US Food and Drug Association (FDA), many discount this seal of approval as yet another agency in the pocket of GMO bullies like Monsanto (who makes the stuff in the first place). The pro-GMO movement is spearheaded by Monsanto and backed up by familiar names like PepsiCo (who makes Naked Juice), Coca Cola (manufacturers of Odwalla, "Honest" Tea, and Simply Orange juice, among other "health drinks"), and Kellogg (maker of Kashi cereal, Gardenburger, and Morningstar Farms, among many other giants within the food industry). The one that really hurts, however, is Unilever, maker of *sob* Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

These companies know that if we are allowed to see that they are using GMOs in their products, we may be less likely to buy them. This is why the Pro-GMO/Anti Prop 37 campaign set out to defeat California's "Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," which would have required labels on all foods containing GMOs. With the GMO-lovers backed up by a $46 million campaign (compared to Yes on 37's measly $9 million) to mislead the public about the proposition (and mislead it did), the proposition failed. While Yes on 37 may have had more companies on their side (37 versus 16), the No campaign had all the money.

In case you are sitting here wondering "why the heck should I care about GMOs?," here is some food for thought:

Firstly, GMOs are a new science which has had only limited testing and not nearly enough time to witness its effects on long-term growth.

Secondly, GMOs are a danger to our ecosystem. When organisms are modified inside of a lab, whether it be to make the plant or animal larger, stronger, or more resistant to pests (some labs are engineering cabbage to produce scorpion venom... that sounds safe), the process can easily lend itself to error. The procedure is accomplished by mixing the genes of other organisms, including viruses, with DNA from the host, in order to achieve the desired results, whatever they may be.

In the best case scenario, you will end up with a mutant plant or animal WITHOUT any X-Men powers, but perhaps with the ability to repel aphids. Congratulations.

At the worst, you start a global pandemic. Here's how: Imagine you have a bad throat infection. You go to the doctor, and he or she prescribes antibiotics with the express instructions to take them until they are gone. But after a couple of days, you are feeling better and don't think you need those antibiotics anymore, so you stop taking those suckers, and then a day later your throat infection is back, but this time it is much worse.

This analogy works perfectly when describing GMOs. When a pesticide is engineered into a plant, like corn or soy, the first insects that choose to have a snack will meet their untimely end. But there will be one or two (or a hundred) insects who have a miniature nibble, then watch their buddies clutch their hands to their throats and fall to the earth. The jig is up.

So now, insect number two has a tiny bit of the pesticide in his body, just enough for his little insect immune system to take it down, and those antibodies will be passed from generation to generation until traditional pesticides no longer work on them. What then?

Many countries, like Germany, New Zealand, and Ireland, have banned GMOs completely, with many others requiring labels, the way California wanted to.

However, some countries are using GMOs to create some pretty questionable animals. One of these is "Glowpig." Scientists cloned a pig with the DNA of a jellyfish to allow the pig to glow under blacklight. I know, the word "why" is probably at the top of your brain right now, so here is their explanation: by causing this very noticeable mutation, they can test future generations for the trait, which was found in two of the 11 piglets born of the glowing mother. If you ask me, I think someone just thought it would be sick to bring a glowing pig to a rave.


5. Viruses: Manmade Bird Flu 

Many of us remember the Bird Flu (H5N1) outbreak that occurred in 2004 (with less intense incidences re-occurring between 2005 and 2007). By all accounts, the 2004 outbreak was a full-blown pandemic, but the possibilities of a new, much more deadly outbreak are completely possible due to man-made genetic mutation.

Scientists at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands have genetically modified the H5N1 virus to be easily transmittable to ferrets, an animal whose immune system reacts very similarly to that of a human when it comes to viruses. It literally only took five simple "tweaks" (scientific term) to create the new scary-as-hell virus.

Opinions about the project are broad. While scientists argue that it will allow them to learn about disease transmission, there are others who rightfully think that this science project would be more at home in a Resident Evil game.

Mutations can be good or bad. When nature mutates something, it is usually for the benefit of the species or the Earth as a whole. When we mutate things, it is almost always for the benefit of us, even if it's only for short-term gain, and
we are too short-sighted to see the end approaching.


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A museum of human mutations in the Netherlands.
Last modified on Tuesday, 03 December 2013 11:58

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