Arxiu d'etiquetes: moth

The reality of mutations

Do you remember the ninja turtles? Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello were four turtles that suffered a mutation when they were bathed with a radioactive liquid. Fortunately or unfortunately, a mutation cannot turn us into ninja turtles, but it can have other effects. Next, I tell you what mutations are.


Our body is like a great factory in which our cells are the workers. These, thanks to their internal machinery, make the factory stay afloat with the least possible problems. The constant operation of our cells (24/7), sometimes causes errors in their machinery. This generates imperfections in the genetic code, which generally go unnoticed. It is true that cells do everything possible to fix the failures produced, but sometimes they are inevitable and lead to the generation of diseases or even to the death of the cell.

Mutations are these small errors, it means, mutations are stable and inheritable changes that alter the DNA sequence. This fact introduces new genetic variants in the population, generating genetic diversity.

Generally, mutations tend to be eliminated, but occasionally some can succeed and escape the DNA repair mechanisms of our cells. However, they only remain stable and inheritable in the DNA if they affect a cell type, the germ cells.

The organisms that reproduce sexually have two types of cells: germinal and somatic. While the former transmit genetic information from parents to children, somatic cells form the body of the organism. Because the information of germ cells, which are what will give rise to gametes (sperm and oocytes) passed from generation to generation, they must be protected against different genetic changes to safeguard each individual.

Most mutations are harmful, species cannot allow the accumulation of large number of mutations in their germ cells. For this reason not all mutations are fixed in the population, and many of these variants are usually eliminated. Occasionally some may be incorporated into all individuals of the species.

The mutation rate is the frequency at which new mutations occur in a gene. Each specie has a mutation rate of its own, modulated by natural selection. This implies that each species can be confronted differently from the changes produced by the environment.

Spontaneous mutation rates are very low, in the order of 10-5-10-6 per gene and generation. In this way, mutations do not produce rapid changes in the population.


Changes of nucleotides in somatic cells can give rise to variant or mutant cells, some of which, through natural selection, get more advantageous with respect to their partners and proliferate very fast, giving us as a result, in the extreme case, cancer, that is, uncontrolled cell proliferation. Some of the cells in the body begin to divide without stopping and spread to surrounding tissues, a process known as metastasis

But the best way to understand the role of natural selection of which the naturist Charles Darwin spoke is with the example of spotted moths (Biston betularia). In England there are two types of moths, those of white colour and those of black colour (Figure 1). The former used to be the most common, but between 1848 and 1898 black moths were imposed.

Figure 1. Biston betularia, white and black moths (Source: TorruBlog)

This change occurred at the same time that cities became more industrial, in which coal became the main fuel for power plants. The soot of this rock dyed the sky, the soil and the buildings of the cities black. Tree trunks were also affected, where the moths were camouflaged.

The consequence of this fact was that white moths could not hide from their predators, whereas those that were black found a successful exit camouflaging well on the tinted trunks. With the change of colour of their hiding place they had more opportunities to survive and reproduce (Video 1).

Video 1. Industrial melanism, white and black moth (Source: YouTube)

This is a clear example of how changes in the environment influence the variability of gene frequencies, which vary in response to new factors in the environment.


There is no single type of mutation, but there are several types of mutation that can affect the DNA sequence and, rebound, the genetic code. However, not all mutations have the same effect.

There are many and different types of mutations, which are classified by mutational levels. These levels are based on the amount of hereditary material affected by the mutation and go up in rank according to the number of genes involved. If the mutation affects only one gene we speak of gene mutation, whereas if it affects a chromosomal segment that includes several genes we refer to chromosomal mutation. When the mutation affects the genome, affecting whole chromosomes by excess or by defect, we speak of genomic mutation.

An example of a point mutation is found in cystic fibrosis, a hereditary genetic disease that produces an alteration in the secretion of mucus, affecting the respiratory and digestive systems. A point mutation affects the gene that codes for the CFTR protein. The affected people receive from both parents the defective gene, which, having no copy of the good gene, the protein will not be functional. The result is that the secretions produced by the human body are thicker than usual, producing an accumulation in the respiratory tract.


  • Ramos, M. et al. El código genético, el secreto de la vida (2017) RBA Libros
  • Alberts, B. et al. Biología molecular de la célula (2010). Editorial Omega, 5a edición
  • Cooper, G.M., Hausman R.E. La Célula (2009). Editorial Marbán, 5a edición
  • Bioinformática UAB
  • Webs UCM
  • Main picture: Cine Premiere


Orchids: different colours and shapes for everyone

The orchid family is composed of a big number of species, about 20.000. Even they are almost around all world, the most live in tropical places and they are epiphytes, that is, they live over other plants. Nowadays, the number of the species is boosted by the commercial interest. Trying to find new characters and colours, many gardeners and hobbyists have created new varieties from the breeding of two distinct species of orchids, that is, they have made artificial hybridization. Even so, it can also happen in nature as usual.


The orchid flower owns a single structure. The most representative part is the column or gynostemium, which is the result of masculine and feminine reproductive parts combined. The perianth, consisting of the calyx (the outermost whorl of parts that form a flower. Its pieces are the sepals) and the corolla (composed of all of the petals), has free pieces and is zygomorphic (single symmetry plane). A much differentiated petal can be seen, it’s the lip. It adopts a different attractive shape and it can own macules (attractive spots for the pollinators). The lip is also adapted to capture the pollinators’ attention and can possess a long prolongation called spur and it has nectar. The flowers may be accompanied by a bract, a modified or specialized leaf.

parts orchidStructure of orchid flowers (Photo taken by Gisela Acosta).

The flower development is very singular in some orchids. Some flowers are born backwards and when they are maturing the ovary twist 180º to help flower stay in proper position, being the own ovary who acts as a peduncle, linking flower and stem. This kind of flower development is called resupinate. The flowers can be solitary or grouped in inflorescences.

orchis masculaResupinate development of flowers (Orchis mascula) (Photo taken by Jonathan Billinger).

The orchids are entomophilous, that is, are pollinated by insects. Depending of the specie, the orchid will be pollinated by a type of insect or other. Even so, this relation or form of pollination (the position in which bees, bumblebees and other hymenoptera get to copulate) cannot be used to describe how evolution happened in orchids; this pollination mechanism was used in the past to classify species, but molecular analyses have denied its worth.

One singular characteristic of tropical species is the velamen radicum: a multi-layered coating on the roots that acts as a sponge. In drought periods this coating protects from the drying and doesn’t allow the losing of water. And in rainy periods, this coating is swollen of water, which will be available to roots. Also, as these orchids are epiphytes, are adapted to drought places.

Pleione_limprichtii_Epiphytic orchid on a tree (Pleione limprichtii) (Photo taken by Adarsh Thakuri)

Orchids live in mutualism with fungus, that is, they establish a relationship in which both organisms are benefited when live together. The orchid seeds need the fungus’ aid to germinate. Many several fungus can stimulate their germination, but  Rhizoctonia (Basidiomycota) is predominant. The fungus degrades the seed coat and releases of dormancy period. Then, the seed begins to germinate and emits filaments, underground organs, and establishes an orchid mycorrhizae. The seed dormancy can last 20-30 years without germinating, but it will not be possible without the fungus action.


Within the great diversity of orchids, some flowers of diferent species create such original shapes that they seem animals, such as monkey orchid (Orchis simia), or insects, such as genus Phalaenopsis; their flowers supposedly resemble moths in flight, and that’s why they are known as the moth orchids.

Orchis simia & Phalaenopsis schillerianaOn the left, monkey orchid (Orchis simia) (Photo taken by Ian Capper); On the right, orchids that resemble moths in flight (Phalaenopsis schilleriana) (Photo taken by Amos Oliver Doyle).

The bee orchids (Ophrys), for example, have a specialized lip that can really attract the hymenopterans. It’s because it reminds female shape and colours and it also emits smells which are similar to female pheromones, doing the pollination more effective.

Ophrys apiferaBee orchid (Ophrys apifera) (Photo taken by Hans Hillewaert).

On the other hand, there are also many curious cases like the Darwin’s orchid (Anagraecum sesquipedale). It’s characterized by its long spur between 25 and 35 cm in length. Darwin guessed it should exist a butterfly that could take the nectar located in the spur and pollinates the flower at the same time. Xanthopan morgani is able and it’s the only one, so it’s one coevolution case.

Angraecum_sesquipedale & XanthopaOn the left, Darwin's orchid (Anagraecum sesquipedale)(Photo taken by Michael Wolf); On the right, Xanthopan morgani (Photo taken by Esculapio).

We can also see species with a high ornamental value, being the most of them from Asia and America. For example, the Cattleya genus has one of the highest floral value and it was used extensively for create new varieties. So, Cattleya has become very popular until today.  A good example is the easter orchid (Cattleya mossiae), which is also the national flower of Venezuela.

Cattleya mossiaeEaster orchid (Cattleya mossiae) (Photo taken by KENPEI).

When we speak of floral value, we can’t forget Rothschild’s slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum). It’s the most expensive orchid in world and it’s considered one of the most expensive flowers, too. Rothschild’s slipper orchid only lives in Mt. Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo, and it’s also one of the rarest orchids in nature of all of the species of Asian Slipper orchids.

Paphiopedilum_rothschildianum_Orchi_108Rothschild's Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum) (Photo taken by Orchi).

Furthermore, orchids are important in alimentation, being surely Vanilla planifolia the most relevant. It’s native to Mexico and vanilla is obtained of its fruits.

Vanilla planifoliaVanilla (Vanilla planifolia) (Photo taken by Michael Doss).


The following sources have been consulted in the elaboration of this entry:

In conclusion, orchids are important in different aspects and that’s why a biggest knowledge of their diversity and biology is necessary. If you liked this article, wouldn’t forget to share it. Thanks for your interest.

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