Chernobyl dogs could be genetically different from radiation

Many of the Chernobyl dogs find refuge in abandoned buildings or construction zones within the nuclear exclusion zone (EFE/Jordan Lapier)

A genetic study with 302 wild dogs of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (ZEC) has identified genetically distinct canine populations from each other and from dogs from other parts of the world.

The study argues that “the unique genetic diversity of these dogs” turns them into “ideal candidates” for future studies aimed at understanding the long-term genetic effects of highly radioactive environments on the health of large mammalian populations.

The investigation, whose details are published this Friday in Science Advanceshas been directed by Gabriella Spatola, of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the University of South Carolina, and by Elaine Ostrander, of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Shortly after the biggest nuclear catastrophe in history occurred in Chernobyl in April 1986, the Soviet government ordered the evacuation of the area surrounding the nuclear power plant (CNPP) and the slaughter of domestic animals.

The ZEC was divided into four concentric zones. Of these, the fourth (the closest to the plant and the most dangerous) has a radius of 30 kilometers.

Many of the Chernobyl dogs find refuge in abandoned buildings or construction sites within the nuclear exclusion zone.
The study was on more than 300 dogs (EFE / Jordan Lapier)

Over the years, the lack of humans favored the return of wildlife and the presence of wild animalssome of them, like dogs, descendants of the domestic animals that remained there.

Some studies have looked at the genetic effects of exposure to ionizing radiation (known to increase genetic mutation rates in various plant and animal species)but it remains unclear how it can affect populations of large animals such as dogs.

To find out, Spatola and his team used blood samples from 302 wild dogs collected between 2017 and 2019 by the Chernobyl Dog Research Initiative, which since 2017 has provided veterinary care to these dogs and collects samples for genetic analysis.

The ground cover plant (AFP)
The indoor plant in the background (AFP) (SERGEI SUPINSKY /)

Samples were collected from dogs living in the city of Chernobyl (15 km) and in Slavutych (45 km).

The team identified 15 Complex Family Structures Unique To The Chernobyl Population compared to other dogs worldwide, and with wide genomic variations within and between ZEC geographic locations, suggesting that these dogs roam between locations, live close to each other, and breed freely.

In view of these data, the study concludes that “the Chernobyl dog population has great potential to inform studies of environmental resource management in a resurgent population.”

Criticism of the study

Eventually, a secondary objective of the structure is to do, in the future, a partial demolition of the old sarcophagus
Eventually, a secondary objective of the structure is to do, in the future, a partial demolition of the old sarcophagus

However, in statements to SMC Spain, James Smith, from the University of Portsmouth (United Kingdom), believes that the study “only shows that there is a different mix of races and families in Chernobyl compared to other places, which is not an amazing find given that the current population depends on the particular mix of breeds that survived the 1986 culling of domestic animals.”

He adds: “I am surprised that the authors do not clearly state in the paper that their results do not demonstrate that radiation is causally related to differences in the Chernobyl dog population structure” and that they claim that these dogs may be genetically distinct. due to radiation when the article “does not present evidence to support a causal relationship between population structure and radiation dose.”

Along the same lines, Germán Orizaola, from the Spanish University of Oviedo, believes that the study only describes the structure of the wild population of dogs in Chernobyl but by not including data on radiation exposure, it is not useful for studying the effects of radiation in these animals.

In addition, the Spanish researcher points out, the work was done between 2017 and 2019, when radiation levels in the area have been reduced by more than 90% since the accident, and the most harmful isotopes for living organisms, like I-131 have been gone for decades.

(With information from EFE)

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