CIE A Level Biology (9700) 2019-2021

Revision Notes

6.2.3 Gene Mutations

Gene Mutations & Their Effect on Polypeptides

  • A gene mutation is a change in the sequence of base pairs in a DNA molecule that may result in an altered polypeptide
  • Mutations occur continuously
  • As the DNA base sequence determines the sequence of amino acids that make up a protein, mutations in a gene can sometimes lead to a change in the polypeptide that the gene codes for
  • Most mutations do not alter the polypeptide or only alter it slightly so that its structure or function is not changed (as the genetic code is degenerate)
  • There are different ways that a mutation in the DNA base sequence can occur:

Insertion of nucleotides

  • A mutation that occurs when a nucleotide (with a new base) is randomly inserted into the DNA sequence is known as an insertion mutation
  • An insertion mutation changes the amino acid that would have been coded for by the original base triplet, as it creates a new, different triplet of bases
    • Remember – every group of three bases in a DNA sequence codes for an amino acid
  • An insertion mutation also has a knock-on effect by changing the triplets (groups of three bases) further on in the DNA sequence
  • This is sometimes known as a frameshift mutation
  • This may dramatically change the amino acid sequence produced from this gene and therefore the ability of the polypeptide to function

Insertion mutation, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notes

An example of an insertion mutation

Deletion of nucleotides

  • A mutation that occurs when a nucleotide (and therefore its base) is randomly deleted from the DNA sequence
  • Like an insertion mutation, a deletion mutation changes the amino acid that would have been coded for
  • Like an insertion mutation, a deletion mutation also has a knock-on effect by changing the groups of three bases further on in the DNA sequence
  • This is sometimes known as a frameshift mutation
  • This may dramatically change the amino acid sequence produced from this gene and therefore the ability of the polypeptide to function

Substitution of nucleotides 

  • A mutation that occurs when a base in the DNA sequence is randomly swapped for a different base
  • Unlike an insertion or deletion mutation, a substitution mutation will only change the amino acid for the triplet (a group of three bases) in which the mutation occurs; it will not have a knock-on effect
  • Substitution mutations can take three forms:
    • Silent mutations – the mutation does not alter the amino acid sequence of the polypeptide (this is because certain codons may code for the same amino acid as the genetic code is degenerate)
    • Missense mutations – the mutation alters a single amino acid in the polypeptide chain (sickle cell anaemia is an example of a disease caused by a single substitution mutation changing a single amino acid in the sequence)
    • Nonsense mutations – the mutation creates a premature stop codon (signal for the cell to stop translation of the mRNA molecule into an amino acid sequence), causing the polypeptide chain produced to be incomplete and therefore affecting the final protein structure and function (cystic fibrosis is an example of a disease caused by a nonsense mutation, although this is not always the only cause)

Substitution mutation, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notes

An example of a substitution mutation

 The effect of gene mutations on polypeptides 

  • Most mutations do not alter the polypeptide or only alter it slightly so that its appearance or function is not changed
  • However, a small number of mutations code for a significantly altered polypeptide with a different shape
  • This may affect the ability of the protein to perform its function. For example:
    • If the shape of the active site on an enzyme changes, the substrate may no longer be able to bind to the active site
    • A structural protein (like collagen) may lose its strength if its shape changes

Exam Tip

A silent mutation is a change in the nucleotide sequence that results in the same amino acid sequence.

This is possible because some amino acids can be coded for by up to four different triplet codon sequences.

Silent mutations are often a change in the 2nd or 3rd base in the codon, rather than the first.

For example, valine is coded for by four different triplet codon sequences (GUU, GUC, GUA and GUG) – therefore, as long as the first two nucleotides in the codon are guanine and uracil valine will be inserted into the polypeptide.

Author:

Alistair graduated from Oxford University in 2014 with a degree in Biological Sciences. He has taught GCSE/IGCSE Biology, as well as Biology and Environmental Systems & Societies for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. While teaching in Oxford, Alistair completed his MA Education as Head of Department for Environmental Systems and Societies.
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