In connection with the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, on April 27, 1986, an evacuation was announced in the city of Pripyat. Residents were sure that they were leaving their city for a few days, so they took only the most necessary with them. Many abandoned their pets, most of which later died due to high doses of radiation and starvation. Nevertheless, some of the dogs managed to survive. Over time, they adapted to the new conditions of survival and began to multiply. The descendants of these dogs live in the exclusion zone to this day, and are now of great interest to scientists. They help to understand how prolonged exposure to radiation affects the body, and also, perhaps, tell what feature of the body helped dogs survive. During one of the studies, scientists found something unusual in Chernobyl dogs.
Dogs from Chernobyl are not afraid of radiation?
According to experts, more than 800 dogs currently live in the exclusion zone. Despite the high level of radiation, the animals not only survived, but also began to multiply successfully, as a result of which their number increased. This prompted the international community to create the Chernobyl Dog Research Initiative (CDRI), which since 2017 has been engaged not only in research but also in providing veterinary care to these dogs.
In their research, an international team of scientists is trying to find mutations and features that have arisen as a result of constant exposure to radiation on dogs. But, it should be noted that in the exclusion zone, radiation levels are uneven. As scientists themselves note, in this regard, the landscape of the Chernobyl zone is a “patchwork quilt”. This suggests that different packs of dogs, theoretically, were affected differently by radiation, which means that their genetic consequences are also different.
As you might guess, the territory of the nuclear power plant is the most contaminated. But, oddly enough, dogs also live here, and they have created their own separate population here. Therefore, they are of the greatest interest to scientists. Obviously, the ancestors of these animals had to endure the highest doses of radiation.
What happened to the dogs from Chernobyl
The scientists are currently working on comparing the genomes of the dogs from the power plant with those of other dogs living in the Chernobyl zone. Dogs that live outside the power plant also fall into two distinct populations. One lives at a distance of 15 km from the nuclear power plant, and the second at a distance of 45 km. Over the past two years, researchers have collected blood samples from 302 dogs from all three populations.
Despite the fact that scientists have just begun their work, they have already found evidence that dogs living in nuclear power plants are different from their other counterparts living in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Scientists drew attention to the fact that dogs from the nuclear power plant are inbred, that is, inbreeding took place in their population. In addition, they are dominated by the blood of German Shepherds, which were popular in the region, as the authors of the work report in the journal Science Advances. In their opinion, the animals were largely able to retain their roots.
At the same time, populations living at a distance of 15 and 45 km from the power plant do not have such differences. They are crossbreeds of modern breeds such as boxers, terriers, pinschers, mastiffs, etc.
Could Chernobyl dogs mutate?
Most likely more than ten generations of dogs lived on the territory of the power plant in conditions of high radiation. Some of them may have inherited mutations caused by the powerful release of radiation at the time of the explosion. According to some reports, the first explosion at Chernobyl was nuclear. Thus, these dogs are a kind of “time capsule”, storing information about how the disaster affected animals for a long time.
At the same time, it is not completely known whether future generations inherited the mutations that their ancestors received as a result of strong radiation at nuclear power plants, or whether they only absorb a small amount of radiation, which is hardly harmful to the body. That is, it is quite possible that mutations caused by radiation do not accumulate in future generations.
In addition, the long-term effects of exposure to radiation are not yet clear. Of course, there is no doubt that constant high doses of radiation can lead to DNA mutation, for example, cause cancer and damage the structural integrity of cells. Previously, scientists have already found serious negative effects of radiation on local animals.
For example, birds have been found with abnormally small brains and tumors, bank voles with cataracts and ineffective sperm. Even the bees experienced serious problems with reproduction. However, it is quite obvious that not all creatures are equally susceptible to radiation. Some animals thrive in the radiation-contaminated wilderness, where there is no human at all. Earlier we said that the Chernobyl frogs, although they turned black, seem to have no problems.
To answer all the questions, scientists plan to conduct more extensive studies in the near future, aimed at finding critical genetic differences that have accumulated over the past 30 years. However, they are unlikely to be able to draw clear conclusions that can put an end to all existing disputes.
The fact is that there is no clear evidence that modern nuclear power plant dogs are descendants of those first dogs that witnessed the disaster. In addition, it will not be easy for scientists to determine which differences between Chernobyl dogs and the rest are due to radiation, and which are caused by the ecosystem change that occurred as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.
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But what cannot be argued with is that over time the pack has become more aloof and self-sufficient. Even with their behavior, the dogs began to return to their wolf roots. This could be due to both radiation and human error. But, in any case, once completely domestic animals have turned into a completely different unique wild population. But this is not only seen with dogs. Bulls and cows also began to behave like wild animals, as we talked about earlier.