Scientists are now gaining insight into how generations are impacted by long-term radiation exposure from a group of wild dogs living near the Chernobyl exclusion zone. A study published in Science Advances suggested that the radiation exposure that is still present at Chernobyl decades after the 1986 nuclear disaster may have profoundly changed the genetics of dog populations. The researchers also said that the genetics within canine populations that have been exposed to differing levels of radiation are also distinct from one another.
Speaking to ABC News, Tim Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, explained that the dogs still living around the exclusion zone are probably descendants of pets that were abandoned after residents of the area surrounding Chernobyl nuclear power plant hastily left the region while also leaving behind all of their belongings, including their dogs. Mr Mousseau said that while the region's wildlife populations were greatly reduced due to the radioactive contamination, some survived and continued to breed.
As per the outlet, for their research, the Chernobyl Dog Research Initiative, which has been providing veterinary care, gathered preserved blood samples from more than 300 dogs between 2017 and 2019 in areas with varied degrees of contamination. The researchers began treating and sterilising the dogs around the same time that construction began for the new safe confinement facility for the nuclear reactor that failed. At the time, they were worried that the dogs living in the nearby area would be an issue.
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According to Mr Mousseau, many of the impacts that scientists have discovered in dogs and other animals are similar to those that were noticed in the past with atomic bomb survivors from Japan during World War II. For instance, they have increased rates of cataracts because the eyes are the first tissues to show signs of chronic exposure to ionizing radiation, Mr Mousseau explained.
The researchers also noted that Chernobyl Exclusion Zone canines appear to live near one another, roam between sites, and breed freely because of the region's extensive genetic variances.
Now, with their study, researchers are aiming to determine the genetic progression of the dogs in the past several generations and look at how they survived and propagated through that time. According to them, the distinctive genetic diversity of these dogs makes them excellent subjects for future research examining long-term genetic health effects of highly radioactive environments on populations of large mammals, especially in understanding the biological underpinnings of human survival in regions of high and continuous environment assault.