Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso


  • Ester Lázaro
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_1037-3


A mutation is any inheritable change in the genetic information (DNA or RNA) of biological entities, be they cells, viruses, or replicating molecules. In multicellular organisms, only mutations produced in the gametes (germinal cells) are transmitted to the progeny. Despite the negative effects that most mutations have on fitness, they play an essential role in living systems, contributing to the generation of the genetic diversity necessary for the action of natural selection (Bell 2008). In the long term, the concerted action of mutation and selection has made biological evolution possible (Woodruff and Thompson 1998), from the first replicating molecules to the complex organisms living in the current world.


Mutations can be produced spontaneously as a result of natural cellular processes, such as the generation of errors during genome replication or the occurrence of modifications in the nucleic acid bases (Lewin 2008). The replication error ratelargely depends...


Adaptation Evolution Fitness Genetic alteration Replication error 
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References and Further Reading

  1. Bell G (2008) Selection: the mechanism of evolution. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Eyre-Walker A, Keightley P (2007) The distribution of fitness effects of new mutations. Nat Rev Genet 8:610–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Lewin B (2008) Genes IX. Jones and Bartlett, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  4. Woodruff RC, Thompson JN (eds) (1998) Mutation and evolution (Contemporary issues in genetics and evolution). Kluwer, NetherlandsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Molecular Evolution LaboratoyCentro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA)MadridSpain