Chernobyl Worms: Nematodes Living Near Doomed Nuclear Power Plant Develops Resilience to Radiation

Worms living near the doomed Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant that exploded almost 40 years ago in Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) seemed to have developed a new ability. According to a new study led by biologists in the United States, nematodes in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) are showing no signs of radiation damage. The discovery suggests that the worms could have developed resilience to radiation within the CEZ.

Despite the unprecedented findings, the new research paper does not suggest that it is already safe for people and animals to live in the confines of the CEZ. Decades since the Chernobyl disaster, areas around the plant have been deemed by local authorities to be detrimental or dangerous due to the life-threatening risks posed by released chemicals following the explosion of one of Chernobyl’s reactors.

Chernobyl Disaster

Chernobyl Worms: Nematodes Living Near Doomed Nuclear Power Plant Develops Resilience to Radiation
(Photo : Photo by Viktor Hesse on Unsplash)

The Chernobyl disaster that happened in 1986 were caused by a flawed design of its No. 4 reactor and combined with the operation of an “inadequately trained personnel.” The explosion of steam and fire released at least 5% of the facility’s radioactive reactor core into the outside world, where radioactive materials were detected at that time across Europe, according to the World Nuclear Association.

In addition, the Chernobyl accident killed two plant workers during the initial explosion on the night of the disaster. After the following weeks, a further 28 people died due to acute radiation syndrome. As a result of the radiation threat, authorities evacuated approximately 350,000 people within the vicinity of the nuclear power plant. Since then, all reactors of Chernobyl are closed and the CEZ with a 30-kilometer radius remains.

In the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion, there has been a wide consensus that the environment around the plant is inhospitable not only for humans but also for the area’s flora and fauna. The closure of the Chernobyl Power Plant has also drawn myths or urban legends about mutated creatures in the radioactive area. However, scientists recently found that some Chernobyl worms might have adapted to the chemicals.

Also Read: Chernobyl Dogs Living Under Worst Conditions: What Humans Can Learn

Chernobyl Worms

To explore the mystery behind the Chernobyl worms, Sophia Tintori of New York University and her team of biologists offered their perspective on DNA repair mechanisms that could be behind the radiation-resilient nematodes. Furthermore, this biological feature or so-called “new talent” developed by the worms could one day be adapted by science to be applied in human medicine.

In the study published in the journal PNAS on Tuesday, March 5, the team found environmental radiation from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has not affected the genomes of local worms in the area. The findings are contrary to what scientists previously expected of living organisms in one of the world’s most radioactive places. This is because one of the major health effects of being exposed in Chernobyl’s radiation is cancer.

Related Article: 302 Feral Dogs Roaming Chernobyl are Evolving Faster, Says DNA Test

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