Canids that lived in the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the accident turn out to be genetically distinct from specimens just a few kilometers away. This was revealed in a study, published in the journal Science Advances, conducted by scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
The team, led by Elaine Ostrander and Timothy Mousseau, drew blood from wild animals currently inhabiting the area. Over a period of about three years, the researchers collected samples from about 300 dogs that lived in and around the mostly deserted power plant town of Chernobyl. After the events of 1986, Soviet authorities urged the population to evacuate the radioactive area.
Many scientists had expressed concern that animals affected by nuclear waste could spread and spread the nuclear hazard. In fact, experts showed that the Chernobyl dog population had been isolated from other dog populations for decades, so much so that DNA tests showed that dogs in the area were directly descended from specimens present in the area during or immediately after the reactor accident.
This work was done as part of a larger project to determine how man’s best friends have adapted to survive in one of the most radioactive places on the planet. The knowledge gained, the authors comment, could prove useful in estimating the effects of long-term radiation exposure on human genetics and health. Indeed, the consequences of low levels of radiation are still hotly debated in the scientific community.