One of the well-known detrimental effects of nuclear disasters is the deleterious effect of ionizing radiation on the natural environment.
An example of such a disaster that took place in recent memory is the collapse of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in 2011, which still raises concerns about the long-term consequences of radiation even after a decade.
There is no clear understanding of how the remaining low-dose radiation can affect living organisms at the genetic level.
New method assesses mutation risks
Living organisms that cannot flee contaminated areas bear the brunt of nuclear disasters, making them ideal subjects for investigating the effects of ionizing radiation.
After the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown, coniferous species such as Japanese Scots pine and spruce showed abnormal branching, possibly due to genetic changes caused by low-dose-rate radiation.
To address concerns about such genetic changes, a team of Japanese researchers developed a new, cost-effective method to estimate mutation risks from low-dose-rate radiation in two of Japan’s widely cultivated tree species in the contaminated area.
The study, led by Dr. Saneyoshi Ueno of the Forest Products and Forest Research Institute and with contributions from Dr. Shingo Kaneko of Fukushima University, used a line of bioinformatics to assess de novo mutations (DNMs) in cedar. Japanese and cherry blossom. Their findings were recently published in the journal Environment International.
“People living in the affected areas are concerned and need to feel safe in their daily lives,” says Dr. Kaneko, emphasizing the importance of dispelling misinformation about the biological consequences of the nuclear power plant accident.
Implications of the Study
The study’s findings indicate that the mutation rate in trees growing in contaminated areas did not show a significant increase due to low-dose-rate radiation.
According to Dr. Ueno, the results suggest that mutation rates are influenced by the environment and vary across lineages. This study is the first to use DNM frequency to evaluate the biological consequences of a nuclear disaster.
With an increasing number of nuclear power plants worldwide, the risk of nuclear accidents is rising. Dr. Ueno believes that their study’s method can aid in understanding the connection between genetics and radiation and quickly perform hereditary risk assessments for future nuclear accidents.
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