"A plant which was therapeutically effective may undergo mutation & become therapeutically ineffective due to ecological or environmental factors." - HERBAL MEDICINE FOR HEALTH BY W.H.O. Comments on this are invited.
Once a protein has been created for a specific function, it cannot be changed. This is why the theory of acquired characteristics (the idea that changes in an organism's overall anatomy, as opposed to changes in its DNA, can be passed on to offspring) is a fallacy. People may have genes that make it easier for them to acquire certain traits, such as larger muscles or the ability to play the piano through exercise or practice, respectively, but the traits themselves, if they are acquired during the life of the individual and are not encoded in the DNA, are not heritable.
Here is one way that DNA may be changed.
There is only one way in which changes that take place during the life of an organism can be passed on to its offspring, and that is if those changes are encoded in the organism's DNA. This is known as mutation. Suppose lung cancer develops in a man as a result of smoking; unless a tendency to cancer is already a part of his genetic makeup, he cannot genetically pass the disease on to his unborn children. But if the tobacco has acted as a mutagen, a substance that brings about mutation, it is possible that his DNA can be altered in such a way as to pass on either the tendency toward lung cancer or some other characteristic.
What changes the stability characteristic of DNA?
Because DNA is extremely stable chemically, it rarely mutates, or experiences an alteration in its physical structure, during replication. But because there are so many strands of DNA in the world, and so much material in the strands, mutation is bound to happen eventually—and, to an extent, at least, this is a good thing. Mutation is the engine that drives evolution, and a certain amount of genetic variation is necessary if species are to adapt by natural selection to a changing environment. If it were not for mutation, neither humans nor the many millions of other species that exist would ever have appeared.
Changes during the replication process results in negative or positive outcomes
Mutation often occurs when chromosome segments from two parents physically exchange places with each other during the process of meiosis. This is known as genetic recombination. Genes also can change by mutations in the DNA molecule, which take place when a mutagen alters the chemical or physical makeup of DNA. The mutations that result are of two types, corresponding to the two basic varieties of cell: somatic mutations, which occur solely within the affected individual, and germinal mutations, which happen in the DNA of germ cells, producing altered genes that may be passed on to the next generation.
Evolution of the individual as positive traits are exhibited
The odd thing about mutations is that while most of them are harmful, the few that are beneficial are, as we have noted, the driving force behind the evolution of life-forms that successfully adapt to their environments. Thus, while most germinal mutations bring about congenital disorders (birth defects) ranging from physical abnormalities to deficiencies in body or mind to diseases, every once in a while a germinal mutation results in an improvement, such as a change in body coloring that acts as camouflage. If the trait improves an individual organism's chances for survival within a particular environment, it may become a permanent trait of the species, because the offspring with this gene have a greater chance of survival and thus will pass on the trait to succeeding generations. (For more about mutation, see the essay by that title. See also Evolution for a discussion of the role played by mutation and natural selection in the evolution of species.)
With the continual application of pesticides and insecticides could the plant no longer have the need to produce its own form of toxins as defense against pests and diseases to grow higher yields, taller, hardier, more productive fruiting body and other attributes?
As climates change will these plants adapt in other ways and lose their therapeutic healing attributes? Perhaps the attacking insects which have now moved to other climates, or as we change and manipulate where and what is grown, were a necessary catalyst for plant production of these components?
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