Arthur, a heavy question. You must first understand proteins, amino acids and the majesty that is your, and yours only, double helix of DNA. It is a terribly complex, beautiful and unique ladder shaped structure of the blueprint that makes you... You. A potion that would mutate this delicate structure could contain a host of things. Radiation, environmental factors, heredity and sometime spontaneous mutation.
Personally I wouldn't drink such a potion or make one for anyone else. If I could mutate into anything, I might opt for a bird of prey or a dolphin. Although a dolphin in Sussex would stick out like a sore thumb. Start reading chemistry and biology books, dude. And get into some amazing science and the scientists who are making us better. Find out what a cell is and what's in it. That's what you are made of. - Brad Gross
In genetics, a mutation is a change of the nucleotide sequence of the genome of an organism, virus, or extrachromosomal genetic element. Mutations result from unrepaired damage to DNA or to RNA genomes (typically caused by radiation or chemical mutagens), errors in the process of replication, or from the insertion or deletion of segments of DNA by mobile genetic elements. Mutations may or may not produce discernible changes in the observable characteristics (phenotype) of an organism. So, the use of too much antibiotics causes the normal bugs to be killed but the slightly abnormal to survive and become stronger and immune to the antibiotics. - Alex Nicholls
Arthur what a great question, this has got all the scientists on our panel having big discussions, not bad for a question from an 8 year old. It is a serious question which could be answered in a variety of ways. If you are into fiction you will know that Alice drinks two types of potion in Wonderland that makes her shrink and then grow again. In Harry Potter there are various potions that makes things mutate. The main one that Harry, Ron and Hermione use is called polyjuice potion. This is made from a variety of unpleasant and foul smelling ingredients but also includes something from the person you wish to mutate into. Harry and Ron manage to change into Crabbe and Goyle using a hair plucked from each one, to try and interrogate their enemy Draco Malfoy. However Hermione is not so lucky and accidentally transforms herself into a cat, after using a cat hair instead of a human hair. Of course Madam Pomfrey is able to return her to normal eventually.
However in real life potions or liquids that cause things to mutate are generally very unpleasant and worth avoiding. Mustard gas can come in liquid form. It is used in warfare, is easily absorbed into people’s bodies and attacks your DNA, causing lasting damage, cell mutation and even death. Cancer is caused by cells mutating and no-one would voluntarily take a potion that might lead to cancer, but there are lots of substances that are carcinogenic and thought to cause cancer to differing extents. However on a positive note, when doctors are helping patients with cancer they may give them liquids – to drink, or through injections, that help to stop their cells mutating and try and stop the body making new cancer cells. So that’s an anti-mutation potion that makes people better, or at least less ill. There are also substances, including liquids, that are mutagens. These attack the DNA inside your cell and cause it to mutate. These can cause illness and death, so not much fun. However there are no liquids that cause you to mutate completely into a different animal or object. At least not any we know about yet.
So if I was you I would stick to imagining the fictional ones that turn you into animals or other people. The real-life ones are all pretty grim. Having said that in a sense the answer to your question is yes – you can drink a potion that makes you mutate. However you wouldn’t want to and you may not survive the experience! - Lydia Samuel
Well done to Arthur for a fantastic and thought-provoking question. He wins a signed copy of a book featuring Brad Gross from Blast Science!