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How fast are humans mutating?

Y chromosome and DNAHumans seem to have accelerated the pace of just about everything from communication to climate change, but the rate of our genetic mutation remains slow and steady.

New research, published online today in Current Biology, compared the same Y chromosome DNA sequence of about 10 million nucleotides in two men separated by 13 generations. The two men had a common ancestor that lived in the early 1800s. After analyzing the men's selected genetic sequences, the researchers found only four true genetic mutations. From that, they were able to calculate a steady rate of mutation for most people.

"These four mutations gave us the exact mutation rate—one in 30 million nucleotides each generation—that we had expected," Chris Tyler-Smith, of the U.K.'s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and a co-author on the study, said in a prepared statement. These numbers amount to an average of 100 to 200 genetic mutations per person.

"New mutations are responsible for an array of genetic diseases," Tyler-Smith noted. Getting to the bottom of these mutation rates will help researchers pinpoint the when certain diseases emerged—and possibly test ways to prevent them.

The needle-in-the-haystack hunt for the infrequent mutations was aided by next-generation sequencing technology. The study's lead author, Yali Xue, also of the Wellcome Trust, noted in a prepared statement, "The amount of data we generated would have been unimaginable just a few years ago."

The researchers hope to continue the hunt for mutation rates. "The ability to reliably measure rates of DNA mutation means we can begin to ask how mutation rates vary between different regions of the genome and perhaps also between different individuals," Tyler-Smith said.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Archaeogenetics

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