PRIPYAT, Russia, Aug. 20 (UPI) — Scientists studying wildlife in the Chernobyl region say DNA may be the key to which species are most likely to be damaged by radioactive contamination.
Two scientists, one American and one French, have been in Chernobyl for more than 10 years studying the populations of insects, birds and mammals in “zone of alienation” surrounding the abandoned nuclear power station in Ukraine, the BBC reported Friday.
Professors Tim Mousseau from the University of South Carolina and Anders Moller from the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris have examined DNA patterns of the species they’ve studied at Chernobyl.
With every generation, the pattern of a species’ DNA changes slightly, as a result of the natural balance between mutations and the individual’s ability to repair damaged DNA.
This is how species evolve, the report said.
The rate of this change, where each piece of the DNA code is replaced by another, is called the substitution rate.
“What we have discovered is that when we look at the species in Chernobyl, we can predict, based on their substitution rates, which ones are most vulnerable to contaminants.” Mousseau said.
Of the species studied at Chernobyl, Mousseau said, migrating birds seem to have been the most badly affected by the contamination.
“One explanation may be that these species have, for whatever reason, less capable DNA repair mechanisms,” he said.
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