Minute to Understanding: What are DNA variants?

What are DNA variants?

We are all mutants! Learn about DNA changes that make us unique.

Did you know that you’re a mutant? Don’t worry — I am too. In fact, all living things could be considered mutants. The human body contains over 30 trillion cells that constantly divide as we grow and age. Every time this happens, the genomic DNA needs to be copied through a process called DNA replication.

Even though cell division and DNA replication are carefully controlled processes, errors can occasionally occur. These errors, called mutations, result in changes to the original genomic DNA sequence. Environmental conditions, such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun, can also lead to mutations. Most times, mutations are recognized and repaired by the cell, but sometimes they become a permanent change in the cell’s DNA sequence and become what are called DNA variants.

In some instances, DNA variants cause little or no changes to cellular functions, therefore no significant changes to the organism. In other instances, these changes can shift the functions of the cell. But big changes don’t always mean bad things! These changes could be beneficial, neutral, or harmful to the organism, depending on the DNA variant. Depending on the type of cell the original DNA mutation occurred in, the variant may be isolated to the individual or it may be passed down to their children, contributing to genetic variation of the population.

Check out more of our Minute to Understanding videos from The Jackson Laboratory here.