What is mutagenic agents – what is physical mutagens

Mutagenic agents

The factors which cause genetic mutation are called mutagenic agents or mutagens. Mutagens are of two types, physical mutagen and chemical mutagen. Muller (1927) was the f irst to find out physical mutagen in Drosophila.

Physical mutagens:

Scientists are using temperature and radiations such as X rays, gamma rays, alfa rays, beta rays, neutron, cosmic rays, radioactive isotopes, ultraviolet rays as physical mutagen to produce mutation in various plants and animals.


Increase in temperature increases the rate of mutation. While rise in temperature, breaks the hydrogen bonds between two DNA nucleotides which affects the process of replication and transcription.


The electromagnetic spectrum contains shorter and longer wave length rays than the visible spectrum. These are classified into ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation are short wave length and carry enough higher energy to ionize electrons from atom. X rays, gamma rays, alfa rays, beta rays and cosmic rays which breaks the chromosomes (chromosomal mutation) and chromatids in irradiated cells. Non-ionizing radiation, UV rays have longer wavelengths and carry lower energy, so they have lower penetrating power than the ionizing radiations. It is used to treat unicellular microorganisms, spores, pollen grains which possess nuclei located near surface membrane.

Sharbati Sonora

Sharbati Sonora is a mutant variety of wheat, which is developed from Mexican variety (Sonora 64) by irradiating of gamma rays. It is the work of Dr. M.S.Swaminathan who is known as ‘Father of Indian green revolution’ and his team.

Castor Aruna

Castor Aruna is mutant variety of castor which is developed by treatment of seeds with thermal neutrons in order to induce very early maturity (120 days instead of 270 days as original variety).

Chemical mutagens:

Chemicals which induce mutation are called chemical mutagens. Some chemical mutagens are mustard gas, nitrous acid, ethyl and methyl methane sulphonate (EMS and MMS), ethyl urethane, magnous salt, formaldehyde, eosin and enthrosine. Example: Nitrous oxide alters the nitrogen bases of DNA and disturb the replication and transcription that leads to the formation of incomplete and defective polypeptide during translation.

Mustard gas (Dichloro ethyl sulphide) used as chemical weapon in world war I.

H J Muller (1928) first time used X rays to induce mutations in fruit fly. L J Stadler reported induced mutations in plants by using X rays and gamma rays.

Chemical mutagenesis was first reported by C. Auerback (1944).


The compounds which are not having own mutagenic properties but can enhance the effects of known mutagens are called comutagens. Example: Ascorbic acid increase the damage caused by hydrogen peroxide. Caffeine increase the toxicity of methotrexate

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