5 common genetic mutations - from baldness to acne

  1. Heterochromia
    1. Have you ever met someone with two different-coloured eyes? If you have, you’ve met a real-life mutant, suffering from heterochromia. This gene mutation comes in three forms - complete heterochromia is where each eye has a completely different colour, sectoral heterochromia is where parts of the iris have different colours and central heterochromia is when the colour changes from the centre to the outer edges of each eye. It even gets a  mention in X-men: First Class, when Professor X calls it a “very groovy mutation”.
  2. Sickle cell disease
    1. This mutation is both a blessing and a curse. It’s where your blood cells don’t develop into the regular oval shape but instead are curved - like the farming tool with a semicircular blade called a ‘sickle’. It can be bad for you, as it can cause anaemia - which makes you get tired very quickly, as well as experience organ failure and even strokes. But on the plus side, it defeats Africa's mightiest killer - the mosquito-spread disease Malaria - as anyone with sickle-shaped blood cells is protected from it.
  3. Acne 
    1. Not many people would consider spots a superpower - or at least, not a good one. But they do come from a genetic mutation known as NEK9. It makes your hair follicles switch from producing hair to producing cysts and blackheads. There are some treatments, and making sure you have a healthy diet and regularly wash your face definitely helps, but the battle against spots is a battle against your genes.
  4. Baldness
    1. You might think that losing your hair is just a natural product of getting older - but it doesn’t happen to everyone. It’s actually a genetic thing, called androgenetic alopecia, and it affects 30% of men in their 30s. Male bodies produce a lot of testosterone, but in men, with this genetic mutation their testosterone morphs into something called dihydrotestosterone - this then binds to the roots of the hairs, causing the cells to stop producing more hair. 
  5. Colour blindness 
    1. Can you imagine not being able to tell the difference between blue and green, or yellow and red? Well, that’s what life is like for a colourblind person. Our retina - right in the back of our eye - is the thing that senses light and it’s made up of things called ‘light receptor cells’. They come in two types - rods and cones. Most people have three types of cone cell which allow them to see red, green and blue (the base colours for all other colours). But some people’s cone cells are mutated, and they only have one or two types of cone - meaning their eyes can’t recognise certain colours.