The term “mutation” may conjure up ideas of fantastical monsters, Marvel’s X-Men, and non-human creatures. True, mutations are frequently linked to disease: something has gone wrong in the body, resulting in an abnormally shaped body part or, in certain cases, cancer. Mutations, on the other hand, are difficult to characterise as “good” or “bad.” Some mutations, such as the human proclivity for long distance running, turn out to be beneficial. More on that later, but first, a primer on mutations…
A mutation is a change in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene that is irreversible. To put it another way, the DNA—genetic material that contains information about inherited characteristics—changes in such a manner that the gene appears differently than it does in most people. Certain proteins and their activities change as a result of this shift, resulting in “genetic variety.” We all have a handful of innocuous mutations that distinguish us. The most prevalent sort of genetic variation in persons is these mutations.
Mutations can be inherited from our parents and grandparents, or they might occur as a result of exposure to the environment after we are born (acquired). Inherited mutations can cause diseases like muscular dystrophy. An acquired mutation is skin cancer that develops as a result of exposure to UV radiation from the sun. However, not all mutations are detrimental. Those that have occurred as a result of evolution may have helped humans survive and prosper, as well as propel us to the top of the world’s endurance running rankings.
An environmental change that transported people to the wide, dry landscapes of Sub-Saharan Africa two to three million years ago produced a shift in the way we moved. As a mode of mobility and exploration, our forefathers gained the capacity to walk erect and run. This posture adjustment was accompanied by a strong aerobic capacity, sweating ability, and large leg muscles, all of which are good for distance runners.
Researchers have recently discovered a single gene that may have also contributed to our status as one of the world’s best endurance runners. The mutation appears to have occurred around the same time as humans began walking on two feet, implying that it may have contributed to our superior running abilities.
Some mutations happen by coincidence and have no explanation. However, it’s more than likely that the mutation that resulted to endurance capacity occurred as a result of shifting demands. Early humans were able to consume a more carnivorous, protein-heavy diet as a result of chasing animals over vast distances, which aided evolution and boosted survival. This mutation may have been necessary for sprinting faster and farther, resulting in the endurance feature that we observe now in modern humans.
We appear to be reaping the rewards of our mutant forefathers. We can credit those little, barely detectable alterations in our genetic code when we line up for our next road race—or run across the street for a cup of coffee.
Graduated from ENSAT (national agronomic school of Toulouse) in plant sciences in 2018, I pursued a CIFRE doctorate under contract with Sun’Agri and INRAE in Avignon between 2019 and 2022. My thesis aimed to study dynamic agrivoltaic systems, in my case in arboriculture. I love to write and share science related Stuff Here on my Website. I am currently continuing at Sun’Agri as an R&D engineer.