Scientists have discovered that wolves living near the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine have developed cancer-resistant genes.
The study was conducted by researchers at Princeton University in the United States, and was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle, and was written about by the British Telegraph.
Genes are small segments or parts of genetic material (DNA), and each segment is responsible for the inheritance of a specific trait. For example, there is a clip that stores the hair color, and another clip that stores the length. Genes tell the cell to make specific proteins to do its job. Each cell in the human body contains about 30,000 genes.
Cancer occurs when a mutation occurs in a normal gene, changing cells from normal to cancerous.
On the other hand, scientists believe that wolves living near the Chernobyl nuclear plant have become able to resist cancer-causing radiation through mutations in cancer-protecting genes.
Chernobyl wolves are exposed to approximately 11.28 milliamperes of radiation per day, which is 6 times higher than the safety limit for humans.
Biologists at Princeton University were studying blood samples from wolves inside and outside the Chernobyl exclusion zone, a 1,000-square-meter area that was cleared of human activity after the disaster.
The team found that in addition to the genetic changes that protected the wolves from cancer, the wolves also had immune system changes similar to those seen in cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.
The team hopes the study will eventually identify these genetic mutations that may increase the chances of fighting cancer in humans.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, with the explosion of reactor number 4 at the nuclear power plant, causing the spread of radioactivity across Europe.
Two people died immediately and 29 died in the following days due to acute radiation syndrome, while the United Nations estimates that about 4,000 others died due to its effects.
Many women even aborted their children out of fear of exposure to radiation poisoning.
However, in recent years, researchers have found that closing the surrounding land to humans has allowed wildlife to flourish, with the area now home to lynx, bison, brown bears, wolves and deer, as well as rare plants. It is home to 60 species.
Previous studies have shown that exposure to radiation speeds up the rate of genetic mutation in plants, with some species developing new chemicals that make them more resistant to radiation damage and protect their DNA.
Scientists report that in the past, when ancient plants were evolving, natural radiation levels on Earth were much higher than now, so they developed radiation-resistant properties.
However, it was not known whether similar protective adaptations would be seen in larger animals.