Science: July 2008 Archives

X-Gene

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My mutants and race piece is in its second draft now, which I'll be sending off tomorrow. I do have some questions that I hope some familiar with recent X-Men occurrences might be able to help with. One of the comments I got back from the editors is that I was taking mutants to be literal mutants, which would mean genes mutated and led to their powers, and these genes would be different genes, genes having something to do with the abilities they end up getting. Nightcrawler's fur would be related to the kinds of genes that produce body hair. Cyclops' force beams would have some connection to genes that affect the eyes. Wolverine's healing factor would come from mutated genes that ordinarily relate to the immune system.

Well, the problem with this, according to my editor, is that the third X-Men movie has a completely different explanation of mutants. They're aren't literal mutants in the sense the term is usually used in biology. Instead, they have this one gene in common. In the movie, they call it the Mutant-X gene. At least that's how it sounds. I later found out this actually does appear in the comic books after I stopped reading them in the mid-90s, and they call it the X-Gene. So maybe it's not the Mutant-X gene in the movie but the mutant X-Gene.

This explanation is just downright stupid. How is it that this one gene explains the variety of powers across all mutants? Also, how did one gene just suddenly appear in all these unrelated people? Whoever came up with this idea knows pretty much nothing about genetics. I did some looking around in Wikipedia, and I found some blog posts about the mutant gene (including this one, which was somewhat helpful). Apparently the Beast, in House of M #2, says the X-Gene is technically a cluster of genes. That's a little better, I suppose, because it allows for different genes to be part of the cluster. Also, the X-Gene was supposed to be scattered throughout humanity but only activated in certain people, and those are the mutants. That's how humans can produce mutant children.

Given that mutants sometimes produce children with the same powers and sometimes end up with children with different or no powers, it seems to me that the X-Gene must not guarantee any particular powers but simply means there's a potential for powers. Without the X-Gene, there will be no powers. When the Scarlet Witch removes the X-Gene from the majority of mutants and the entirety of non-mutants, all the mutants without the gene end up becoming normal humans. So my suspicion is that this would have to be an activator gene (or cluster of genes), and what determines the specific powers is something else. The X-Gene itself is simply an activator, one that probably just isn't turned on in normal humans but is turned on in mutants.

If this is the official explanation in the comic books and the movies, then it changes significantly how my argument in this chapter will work. I think my conclusion still holds, but the argument for it is completely different from what it was in the first draft. So what I'm wondering is if this seems to fit with the recent comic books, since I haven't read any of them. I may have some of them, since I continued to buy them for a little while after I stopped reading them, and I did inherit some more even later from my brother that I haven't read. I don't think I have any House of M, though. I just looked and didn't see any, even though I thought I had some. So what I'd love is if someone could direct me to specific issues where this stuff is discussed, and then I can see if I might have them or if someone could confirm that this is pretty much the official explanation of mutants at this point. If it is, I need to focus on this. If it's not, and it's still sort of up in the air with the more traditional explanation still possible, then I can keep most of what I've written and just add some more on the new explanation.

Update: Someone else has arrived at a similar view, but it assumes one X-gene. If we trust the Beast's analysis, you could make it much more complex, with several genes contributing to activation of the powers, and perhaps all or a certain number of them need to be present. Also, the Celestials, in seeding the human populace with the necessary genetic material for mutations of this sort, might not have included anything like the latent genes to be activated or the activation genes but might simply have placed the necessary genetic materials, with the necessary factors for those eventually to reach a point where they do what happens later on. This would explain a few isolated mutants throughout history and a much more concentrated appearance of mutants in the late 20th century. I like the suggestion that mutates (who get powers later in life due to some stimulus like radiation) have something else activate their latent powers in the way that the X-Gene does with mutants.

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