I was wondering why radioactive elements have a mutation effect on living things, how does this happen to both fully grown adults and unborn children?
Asked by: Ken
When an element is described as radioactive, it is undergoing radioactive decay. This means that the atoms are too unstable to remain in their present form. The atoms begin to 'fall apart', releasing energy and particles.
As you probably know, all cells in living beings have DNA, or a set of molecular blueprints, inside of the nucleus. When these cells are exposed to radiation or any other mutagen, particles and energy can damage the DNA. When the DNA gets damaged, the blueprints are damaged and the cells are not made the same way. These damaged cells may die as a result of the mutations, or they may grow. These changes can become apparent when a group of cells become visible, as in the case of skin cancer, or when the bodily functions begin to suffer.
In the case of unborn fetuses, exposure to radiation can drastically impact the way the child will grow up, since the baby is growing very quickly and cells are created for growth as well as repair. If exposure is early in the pregnancy, the effects may be more traumatic, since the damaged cells will divide more times. The end result of all these bad cells is a birth defect, if the mutation is malignant, or harmful.
When an adult is exposed to radiation and a mutation occurs, the body has a fully developed immune system to kill and eliminate harmful cells. Fetuses, on the other hand, do not and are at a higher risk. If the level of exposure is low, then the body will be able to fight off the bad cells. The cells are not dividing as rapidly as in a baby, since the adult is not growing more cells, rather just replacing damaged cells.
Answered by: Daniel Howe
'Our job in physics is to see things simply, to understand a great many complicated phenomena, in terms of a few simple principles.'