Degenerate: Definition, Types, & Examples

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Degenerate Definition

The term degenerate comes from the Latin dēgenerātus, which comes from the Latin dēgenerō, which means “to be inferior” or “to become unlike one’s type.” Deteriorate, decay, degrade, and decline are synonyms.

What Does Degenerate Means?

Degenerate refers to something becoming worse or less of its original status. It indicates that one entity performs the same function or provides the same result as another entity with a different structure. When an organism or a portion of an organism degrades or loses quality, characteristic, or function in comparison to its previous condition, the term might be used. Degeneracy refers to the process, state, or ability of an organism or a structural element to degenerate.

Degenerate in Biology

In biology, the term “degenerate” can have a variety of meanings. It might relate to a biological system’s degeneracy, or redundancy, such as the genetic code. Degeneration, deviation, or loss of one or more highly developed characteristics are alternative biological definitions of degenerate. Degeneration is the term used to describe this process or state.

In industrial microbiology, degenerate is used when the productivity of a microbial strain employed in a commercial operation decreases following repeated transfers from one culture medium to another. Genetic mutations are frequently to blame.

Degenerate Code

Degenerate is a word used to characterise the genetic code’s redundancy. Any codon combination that results in the same amino acid is referred to as a degenerate code. To put it another way, one amino acid can be defined by many types of codons. In mRNA, a codon is a group of three contiguous nucleotides. It forms a base pair with the anticodon of the tRNA molecule that contains a specific amino acid.

As a result, the type and sequence of amino acids for protein synthesis are determined by the codons in the mRNA transcript. The sequence of nitrogenous bases in mRNA acts as the codeword for one amino acid, and is referred to as the genetic code. Although there are enough distinct codons to define 64 different amino acids, proteins are only made up of 20 amino acids (and three stop codons).

The degeneracy of the code means that a codon with a different nitrogenous base composition than another can produce the same amino acid. Glutamic acid, for example, is an amino acid that may be defined by two structurally distinct codons. GAG (guanine-adenine-guanine nucleotides) and GAA (guanine-adenine-guanine nucleotides) are both codons that indicate glutamic acid. Serine is another example.

The codons for this amino acid are UCA, UCG, UCU, UCC, AGC, and AGU. Silent mutations involving a single nucleotide change are explained by this aspect of the genetic code. A polypeptide chain, for example, is made up of a series of amino acids.

Because various codons specify distinct amino acids, a single nucleotide mutation does not necessarily result in a visible structural change in the polypeptide, especially when the alteration specifies the same amino acid. The resultant polypeptide will be physically and functionally identical to others of its sort.

Degenerate in Evolution

Degenerate (in the sense of degeneration) refers to an organism’s condition or process when one or more highly developed characteristics have been lost. A function or a structure might be the feature. Degeneracy in the population occurs when a highly developed ancestral structure is lost or replaced by an inferior in the process of development.

Degeneration, according to proponents of a degeneration hypothesis, is defined as a complex organism’s inclination to diverge and become a simpler, less specialised form. Some well-known evolutionary biologists who endorsed this hypothesis were Ernst Haeckel and Ray Lankester.

Charles Darwin, on the other hand, was a staunch opponent of this idea. When applied to people, degeneration, according to degenerationists, might indicate that human civilisation is on the decline.

Degeneracy is described as a system characteristic in which many components perform identical tasks under certain situations while also performing different roles under other circumstances. Degenerate components tend to increase biological resilience and there appears to be some redundancy involved.

The adhesins gene family of A. saccharomyces is an example of this. This organism has the ability to produce proteins that have particular functions during development. When the expression levels of the same proteins are altered, they appear to perform a role comparable to that of other proteins.

Another example is glucose metabolism. Glycolysis and the pentose phosphate route are two degenerate glucose metabolism processes. Both routes are involved in glucose metabolism. As a result, they can act as a stand-in for each other in certain situations.

Degenerate in Physiology and Medicine

The term degenerate is used in physiology and medicine to describe deterioration, or degeneration, in structure and function. Bone degeneration, for example, occurs when the bone degenerates naturally, particularly during senescence, or biological ageing.

The progressive degradation of physical characteristics and function of a cell or an entire organism is referred to as senescence. The cell gradually deteriorates or degenerates at the cellular level as it loses its capacity to divide and operate as it once did.

The loss of these characteristics is related to telomere shortening, which leads to DNA damage. Senescence occurs at the organism level when the organism ages. It loses its capacity to operate and deal with stress. As a result, the organism becomes prone to illness and malfunction.

Degenerate also denotes deterioration over time in medicine, and the condition may progress to a disease. A degenerative disease is a term used to describe such a condition. Humans suffer from a variety of degenerative illnesses.

Degenerative arthritis is one of them. It is a kind of arthritis in which the articular cartilage that lines the joints is destroyed. It’s most common in the hips, knees, and spine’s main weight-bearing joints. It may also be visible in the hands’ tiny joints.

Macular degeneration is another frequent deterioration. It is a naturally occurring degeneration in which the vision of older people deteriorates. Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent cause of dementia and a kind of neurodegeneration, is another example.

In various regions of the brain, it is characterised by a gradual loss of function and the death of nerve cells (neurons). As a result, cognitive skills such as memory and language are lost. This disease, which affects memory, generally begins in the 40s or 50s. The affected person develops impaired cognition and speech over time, eventually leading to full helplessness. As a result of nervous system degeneration and the body’s incapacity to interpret electrical impulses, the body ceases to operate.

Other frequent degenerative illnesses include coronary artery disease and cancer. Degenerative illnesses result from degenerative changes at the cellular level, which eventually impair tissue and organ function. Many of these have to do with biological ageing and genetics. However, lifestyle choices may exacerbate the propensity.

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