Worms found in Chernobyl may be immune to nuclear radiation, study suggests – National

A certain type of worm that researchers have collected around the site of the melting Chernobyl nuclear power plant has shown remarkable resilience to nuclear radiation and appears to be largely unaffected, living in the most radioactive place on Earth.

A study published last week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesand led by researchers at New York University (NYU), discovered that microscopic worms called nematodes have a great ability to resist damage to their DNA – a discovery that could help inform cancer research.

DNA and gene changes (also called mutations) that affect cell growth cause these changes. cause cancer. For example, smoking cigarettes or being exposed to too much UV rays from the sun can cause DNA damage that can promote the formation and spread of cancer.

If these little nematodes can withstand Chernobyl-level radiation, perhaps one day they can be used to understand how to protect DNA from carcinogens.

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“Chernobyl was a tragedy of incomprehensible magnitude, but we still don’t have much idea of ​​the effects of the disaster on local populations,” said Sophia Tintori, a postdoctoral associate at NYU and first author of the study, according to a report. NYU press release.

Plants and animals continue to thrive in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, despite the high level of radiation still hitting the restricted area around the melting facility. Hundreds of dogs inhabit the area, although research has shown that they appear physically and genetically different from their counterparts elsewhere.

Click to play video: “California family adopts dog who previously lived in Chernobyl radiation zone”

California family adopts dog that previously lived in Chernobyl radioactive zone

Tintori and his colleagues set out to conduct similar research. But instead of sequencing the dogs’ genomes, they studied a species of nematode called Oscheius tipulae.

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“These worms live everywhere, and they live quickly, so they go through dozens of generations of evolution while a typical vertebrate is still putting on its shoes,” said Matthew Rockman, professor of biology at NYU and lead author. of the study.

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The team collected 15 O. tipulae towards around the exclusion zone, measuring the radiation level at the locations where they were found using a Geiger counter. The worms came from places where radiation levels were low, comparable to New York City, and high, comparable to space.

Postdoctoral associate Sophia Tintori measures radiation at a site in the Chernobyl exclusion zone where researchers have collected worms from organic material, including rotten fruit.

Matthew Rockman via NYU

They then sequenced the genomes of the 15 Chernobyl worms and compared them to five nematodes from other parts of the world.

The researchers were surprised when they learned that they could not identify a signature of radiation damage in the genome of the Chernobyl worms.

“This does not mean that Chernobyl is safe, but rather that nematodes are very resilient animals and can withstand extreme conditions,” Tintori noted.

“We also don’t know how long each of the worms we collected stayed in the area, so we can’t be sure of the exact level of exposure each worm and its ancestors received over the past four decades .”

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The scientists then wondered whether the reason for the apparent lack of change in these worms’ genes was because they had evolved some sort of resilience or whether they were exceptional at repairing their damaged DNA.

The team raised populations of worms from their original 20 and exposed them to different carcinogens to see how well they could resist DNA damage. The results revealed that the Chernobyl worms were not necessarily more tolerant of radiation and that the radioactive landscape had not forced them to evolve.

Matthew Rockman examines nematodes under a microscope in a makeshift laboratory in a kyiv hotel.

Sophia Tintori via NYU

“Now that we know which strains of O. tipulae are more sensitive or more tolerant to DNA damage, we can use these strains to study why different individuals are more likely than others to suffer the effects of carcinogens,” Tintori said.

“Thinking about how individuals respond differently to DNA-damaging agents in the environment is something that will help us get a clear picture of our own risk factors,” she added.

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