What sort of radiation can cause genetic mutations?
The genetic information of an organism is stored in the DNA molecule, a polynucleotide, which consists of three types of molecules: nitrogenous bases, deoxyribose sugars, and phosphate groups. Radiations that changes the chemical composition or the three dimensional arrangement of these molecules can cause genetic mutations.
Ionizing radiation creates ions by breaking chemical bonds. Such radiation can break the bonding in the sugar phosphate backbone or alter the chemical makeup of the bases, adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine. This type of radiation can also split water molecules into hydrogen and hydroxide ions. Sources of ionizing radiation can be gamma radiation, X rays, cosmic rays, and radiation from nuclear fallout.
Another source of radiation is ultraviolet radiation which can also mutate DNA. This radiation forms thymine dimers. These dimers are formed when two adjacent DNA molecules bond with each thus causing the conformation (shape of the DNA molecule) to buckle and thus impede replication. Fortunately, DNA has repair systems to correct this problem. But in nature, things are not always perfect, so if the repair system fails this raises the risk of cancer.
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