Any change in a DNA molecule of a plant or animal is called a mutation, whether occurring in nature or induced experimentally. Changes in DNA occur in nature as a result of either environmental agents or rare but inevitable mistakes in the DNA replication process. The resulting natural variations of DNA sequence among the individuals of a species, DNA polymorphisms, fuel evolution. These polymorphisms can be analyzed through molecular techniques and can be used to determine the relationship among plants and molecular plant improvement as well as identifying individual plants. Hence, we have seen the development of DNA fingerprinting for intellectual property protection of novel genetic improvements in plant breeding—which is similar to the fingerprinting techniques used in several human criminological contexts.
Specific mutational changes in DNA may affect the function of the resulting protein, usually by reducing its efficiency or rendering it completely nonfunctional. However, in rare cases, a mutation may make the enzyme more useful for metabolism in some way. The former type of change is widely used by plant scientists to discover the roles of genes in growth and development; the latter represents the goal of protein engineering and is the basis of plant biotechnology.
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