Causes and effects
Mutations are changes that can occur in genes. These changes are random and can be caused by background radiation and chemicals that we come into contact with, eg the chemicals in cigarette smoke. The change causes an alteration to thebase pair sequence in the genetic code.
Sometimes these changes can be so severe that the cell dies, sometimes the cell can divide uncontrollably and become cancerous, and sometimes the changes are small and the cell survives. Very rarely, the changes may even be beneficial to us and produce new and useful characteristics.
Passing on mutations
If these changes occur in normal body cells, the changes are lost when we die. But if the changes occur in our sex cells such as sperm and ova, there is the possibility that the changes in the gene will be passed onto the next generation.
It is when these changes are passed on to the next generation that natural selection can either ensure that they are selected if they are useful, or disappear from the gene pool if they are not.
The combined effect of these mutations, environmental changes, and natural selection, can sometimes produce changes in the organism that are so great that anew species is produced. This does not happen very often and only occurs when the mutated organism can no longer breed with the original species and is capable of producing fertile offspring.
Read on if you’re taking the higher paper.