Study: Mutated wolves roaming the Chernobyl exclusion zone have developed cancer-fighting abilities

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Mutant wolves roaming the human-free Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have evolved cancer-resistant genomes that could be key to helping humans fight the deadly disease, a study has shown.

The wild animals were able to adapt and survive under the high levels of radiation that plagued the region after the explosion of a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986. It became the worst nuclear accident in the world.

Humans abandoned the area after the explosion leaked cancer-causing radiation into the environment, and a 1,000-square-mile area was cordoned off to prevent further human exposure.

But in the nearly 38 years since the nuclear disaster, the area’s wildlife has recovered, including wolf packs that appear unaffected by chronic radiation exposure.

A nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986, becoming the worst nuclear accident in history.  Getty ImagesA nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986, becoming the worst nuclear accident in history.  Getty Images

A nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986, becoming the worst nuclear accident in history. Getty Images

Kara Love, an evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist in Shane Campbell-Staton’s lab at Princeton University, has been studying how mutant wolves have evolved to survive in their radioactive environment and presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle. Washington last month.

In 2014, Love and her colleagues went inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone and placed GPS collars equipped with radiation dosimeters on wild wolves.

They also took blood samples from the animals to understand their responses to cancer-causing radiation. According to a statement published by the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

By using specialized collars, researchers can get real-time measurements of where wolves are and how much radiation they are exposed to, Love said.

In the nearly 38 years since the nuclear disaster, the area's wildlife has recovered, including wolf packs that appear unaffected by chronic radiation exposure.  FLCCIn the nearly 38 years since the nuclear disaster, the area's wildlife has recovered, including wolf packs that appear unaffected by chronic radiation exposure.  FLCC

In the nearly 38 years since the nuclear disaster, the area’s wildlife has recovered, including wolf packs that appear unaffected by chronic radiation exposure. FLCC

They learned that wolves are exposed to 11.28 millirem of radiation per day throughout their lives, more than six times the legal safety limit for humans.

The researchers found that the immune systems of Chernobyl wolves appear different from those of normal wolves, similar to those of cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.

Love points to certain regions of the wolf genome that appear to be able to resist increased cancer risk.

This research could be key to studying how genetic mutations in humans can increase the odds of surviving cancer, flipping the script on many known genetic mutations, such as BRCA, that cause cancer.

Chernobyl dogs – descendants of former residents’ pets – You may also possess similar resilience to canceralthough they have not been studied in the same way as their wild cousins.

The researchers found that the immune systems of Chernobyl wolves appear different from those of normal wolves, similar to those of cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.  x/cara in loveThe researchers found that the immune systems of Chernobyl wolves appear different from those of normal wolves, similar to those of cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.  x/cara in love

The researchers found that the immune systems of Chernobyl wolves appear different from those of normal wolves, similar to those of cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy. x/cara in love

Dogs were present in the area immediately after the disaster, and they adapted better than other species, such as birds, which suffered severe genetic defects as a result of the toxic radiation.

These findings are particularly valuable since scientists have learned that canines fight cancer more similarly to the way humans do than laboratory rats.

Unfortunately, Love’s work has been somewhat interrupted, as she and her colleagues have been unable to return to the Chernobyl exclusion zone — first because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now because of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

(Tags for translation)Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

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