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Artificial Transmutation

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It’s Drosoman!

Drosoman. Drosoman.  Does whatever a fruit fly can.

License: CC BY-NC 3.0


Whether by morally dubious experimentation, exposure to radioactivity, or accelerated evolution, mutation is seen in many genres of film and literature.  But even though popular culture depicts fictional mutations gifting humans with superpowers, real world mutations usually gift humans with serious health problems if not death.  Cancer, for example, is the mutation of cells.  The mutations usually turn the cells malignant.  Nuclear power plants have been gaining major media attention as more and more cases of plant induced health problems have been surfacing in the news.  However, some scientists are purposely exposing life forms (namely the infamous fruit fly) to radioactivity.  H. J. Muller’s work “Artificial Transmutation of the Gene” is often seen as the first experiment to intentionally cause mutations.  In order to cause these mutations, he exposed fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) to X-rays. The experiment applies the process of atomic transmutation to genetics.  X-rays are shot at a fruit fly in order to create new DNA combinations, similar to how particles are shot at a nucleus to create a new element.

Creative Applications

  1. Describe in your own words how artificial transmutation of genes relates to artificial transmutation of atoms.
  2. Why is it so dangerous for life forms to be exposed to radiation?
  3. Is nuclear energy worth the danger?
  4. What do you think would happen if you were to be bitten by one of Muller’s flies?






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  1. [1]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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