Sunday, March 13, 2016
Effect of radiation on species in Chernobyl
The Chernobyl disaster happened in Pripyat, Ukraine, where a nuclear reactor exploded releasing large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. It is now abandoned and there were many casualties as a result of exposure to high levels of radiation.
High doses of radiation can affect living tissue in various ways. One of those ways involves breaking strands of DNA. A high enough dose can cause serious illness or death. However, low doses of radiation are not as lethal. Over time, it can cause genetic mutations which can lead to different types of cancers.
Dr. Mousseau, who is a biologist at the University of South Carolina, makes trips to Chernobyl to study the effects of radiation on different species on birds and insects. He has observed species in areas of varying radiation. In areas of higher radiation, Mousseau has noticed higher frequencies of tumors and physical abnormalities like deformed beaks in birds. He also noticed that insect populations decreased in areas of higher and higher radiation.
One of the biggest observations that Mousseau noticed was that one species of bird seemed to have adapted to the radioactive environment by producing higher levels of protective antioxidants, which correlates with less genetic damage. This discovery has led Dr. Mousseau to state that chronic exposure to radiation acts as a source of natural selection.
Lastly, Dr. Mousseau noticed that birds in higher areas of radiation showed greater adaptation than those living in areas with lower radiation levels. There is no explanation for this, but it is an interesting observation to say the least.
The effects of radiation have always interested me. I find it amazing that a species of bird has possibly found a way to adapt to the radioactive environment at one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. I do not find it out of the realm of possibility that this discovery can lead to possible advancements in technology as we continue find ways to fight against cancer.