A NEW breed of dogs have emerged from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site that adapted to survive in the most radioactive place on earth.
The free-roaming pooches are now genetically distinct from their furry friends across the globe following years of exposure.
AFPThe stray dogs of Chernobyl have managed to survive in the most radioactive place on the planet[/caption]
APThe pooches are genetically distinct from other dogs, research has found[/caption]
AFPThe animals roam within the power plant itself and around the disaster site[/caption]
Hundreds of stray dogs still roam the ruins of the decaying power plant that was the site of the 1986 nuclear catastrophe.
An explosion equivalent to 500 nuclear bombs was triggered when the reactor overheated – expelling deadly radioactive material into the air.
It is this which has fundamentally changed the genetics of the local dog population, a landmark study has revealed.
Experts wanted to gain further insight into the gangs of canines who have set up camp around Chernobyl.
And the results have finally given scientists a glimpse into the impact of long-term radiation exposure through generations.
Boffins collected blood samples from more than 300 stray dogs between 2017 and 2019 for genetic analysis.
The animals were living within the power plant itself as well as up to nearly 28 miles away from the disaster site.
They studied pups who had been exposed to varying levels of contamination with help from the Chernobyl Dog Research Initiative, which has been providing the animals with vet care.
Experts quickly realised the pooches were genetically distinct from pets living elsewhere in the world.
They instead have more similarities with dogs and other species who were affected by the atomic bombings in Japan during World War II.
Researchers believe the changes and evolution are a result of the ionizing radiation they’ve lived with for decades.
The Chernobyl strays have increased rates of cataracts because the eyes are the first tissue to show signs of chronic exposure.
Tim Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, told ABC News scientists are also looking for other developmental abnormalities, such as tumors, smaller brain sizes and changes in symmetry.
The dogs in Chernobyl city have 15 unique and complex family structures and have the background of boxers and Rottweilers.
Meanwhile, the animals in Slavutychy have more Labrador retriever in their genetic makeup.
But it is clear that the dogs move around different areas and breed freely with one another.
The team found that the strays had formed into packs, much like wild dogs and wolves, and lived closely together.
Elaine Ostrander, study author and geneticist at the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, told IFLScience: “We don’t yet know what, if any, genetic differences might allow dogs to survive in one versus another environment.
“Looking for changes in the DNA that have helped one versus the other population survive is the long-term goal of the study and one we are working towards now.
“I think the most remarkable think about the study is that we identify populations of dogs living in and in the shadow of the reactor, and we can tell who those dogs are just by looking at their DNA profile.
“We think that is an important experiment because those changes, if identified, would be helpful for understanding early events in cancer, help guide using therapies for diseases that are motivated by radiation exposure, and would suggest ways in which we can better protect ourselves from both accidental and natural radiation exposure.”
She said most of the dogs living in the exclusion zone are likely descendants of pets from people that fled Chernobyl.
We can see the history of pets etched in the DNA of dogs living in the exclusion zone today.
“To think of families living in places like near spent fuel rods is incredible and speaks to the resilience of dogs as a species.
“We can see the history of those pets etched in the DNA of dogs living in the exclusion zone today,” Ostrander added.
Experts now want to delve into the genetic progression of the dogs and how they have adapted to survive over the years.
Changes in their health, appearance and behaviour will be assessed to determine the lasting effects of different degrees of exposure.
“Ideally, we’d like to find variants that the DNA has acquired over the 15 generations since the accident that permit survival of the high radiation exposure versus low radiation exposure environment,” explained Ostrander.
She says these types of samples have only existed “once in human history”, leaving researchers excited for what else they may discover.
Discovering how mammals evolve to live in harsh radiation environments could bring important insights into how to prevent cancer in humans, or protect astronauts in the deadly radioactive environment of space.
The Chernobyl disaster left the site as a ghost town, while the devastating impact rippled across Europe.
At least 31 people died in the accident – including two who were killed at the scene and more who passed away a few months later from Acute Radiation Syndrome.
The actual death toll is hard to predict as mortality rates have been hidden by propaganda and reports were lost when the Soviet Union broke up.
Approximately another 14 people have died from suspected radiation-induced cancer in the ten years since the explosion.
In 2005, the World Health Organisation revealed a total of 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure.
About 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been seen since the disaster – mainly in people who were children or teenagers at the time.
Many women also aborted their babies for fear they would be affected by radiation poisoning.
An 18-mile radius known as the “Exclusion Zone” was set up around the reactor following the disaster.
Chernobyl was seized by Russian forces in early 2022 during the Ukraine war, sparking fears of a major radioactive disaster.
GettyExperts say the strays provide insight into the generational effects of radiation exposure[/caption]
AFPThe dogs are most likely descendants of pets that were left behind following the disaster[/caption]
GettyBlood samples were taken from over 300 of Chernobyl’s furry creatures[/caption]