Chernobyl Wolves Show Cancer Resistance

( – Most people are aware of the 1986 catastrophic nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant in Ukraine, controlled by the former Soviet Union. Two workers died that day, and dozens more suffered from acute radiation sickness which led to the deaths of at least 29 people over the next few weeks. Enormous quantities of radioactive particles spread over large areas of Western Europe, leading to over 300,000 people being evacuated and the creation of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), which has controlled access due to still actively radioactive areas.

There has been much interest in the area over the years, particular in the plants and animals that still mysteriously seem to thrive there. Many researchers are dedicated to discovering what life in the CEZ can tell us about genetics, mutations, and radiation. A recently released study led by the evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist Cara Love at Princeton University, has found that the wolves in the area have genetically altered immune systems and show some resistance to cancer.

Love and her team equipped the wolves in the CEZ with radio collars in order to track their movements and monitor radiation exposure in 2014. Their study has shown that the wolves are being exposed to startlingly high doses of radiation daily, exceeding six times the acceptable or legal limit for human workers. The team also collected blood samples from the wolves to aid in their research.

The research team’s study of the data they have collected indicates there have been distinctive mutations in the wolves’ genome which suggest natural selection among the wolves that favors traits that are conducive to cancer resistance. Co-author of the study, geneticist Dr. Elaine Ostrander has referred to their study as a golden opportunity to consider the question of how they have survived such a hostile environment over the 15 generations of wolves that have lived there since the Chernobyl disaster. Love says their study could have potential implications for human health including the identification of protective mutations to improve cancer survival rates.

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