Dogs of Chernobyl: Scientists look for genetic effects of radiation in canines around the nuclear plant
Scientists are gaining insight into how generations are impacted by radiation exposure from a group of stray dogs that live close to the Chernobyl exclusion zone, as reported by the Associated Press.
A study published in Science Advances suggests that the radiation exposure that is still present at Chernobyl decades after the nuclear disaster in 1986 may have profoundly changed the genetic makeup of canine populations.
The genetic makeup of canine populations exposed to various levels of radiation also differs from one another, according to the study.
According to Tim Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, who spoke to ABC news, the dogs that are still present in the exclusion zone are probably descended from pets that were abandoned after residents of the area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant hastily left the area while also leaving behind all of their belongings, including their dogs.
While the region's wildlife populations were greatly reduced by the radioactive pollution, some animals managed to live and procreate.
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.
At the time that works on the new safe confinement facility for the failing nuclear reactor started, there was worry that the dogs living nearby would be an issue. The volunteers started treating and sterilising the dogs.
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, according to Mousseau.
According to the study, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone canines appear to live near one another, roam between sites, and breed freely because of the region's extensive genetic variances.
Although ionising radiation exposure is known to increase the rate of genetic mutation in a variety of plant and animal species, the study demonstrated that it is still unknown how bigger animals may be affected at the population level.
The distinctive genetic diversity of these dogs makes them excellent subjects for future research examining the long-term genetic health effects of highly radioactive environments on populations of large mammals, particularly in examining the biological bases of human survival in areas of intense and ongoing environmental assault, the researchers said.
"It was a dream come true for me to be able to do some really sophisticated, advanced genetics in a way that had never been done before in this setting and on a model organism," Mousseau said. "What could be a better model for humans than dogs?"