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Any agent capable of altering a cell's genetic makeup by changing the structure of the hereditary material, DNA. Many forms of electromagnetic radiation (e.g., cosmic rays, X rays, ultraviolet light) are mutagenic, as are various chemical compounds. The effects of some mutagens are increased or suppressed in some organisms by the presence of certain other, nonmutagenic substances; oxygen, for example, makes cells more sensitive to the mutagenic effects of X rays.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on mutagen, visit Britannica.com.