Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sperm and eggs fall foul of fallout

08.02.2002


470 nuclear weapons were detonated in Kazakhstan between 1949 and 1989
© SPL


Nuclear tests up gene mutation risk.

People in the remote former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan who were exposed to fallout from nuclear-weapon tests have more genetic mutations in their eggs and sperm than normal, researchers have found1. Their children could inherit health defects caused by such mutations.

The Soviet Union detonated 470 nuclear weapons at the Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing site between 1949 and 1989, many above ground. The blasts showered radioactive dust over a 100-kilometre area. Inhabitants received up to one-fifth of a lethal radiation dose.



This has reputedly caused cancer and other health problems amongst the area’s sparse population. But medical evidence has been meagre.

Scientists do not know whether this type of radiation exposure causes genetic damage in humans, and if so, whether the damage is passed on to children. The three generations of affected individuals now living in Kazakhstan enabled Yuri Dubrova of the University of Leicester, UK, and his team to start estimating the harm that has been caused.

The researchers found double the normal rate of genetic changes in people’s sperm and eggs. These cells form future offspring, so the mutations are likely to be hereditary.

"[Until recently] no one had been able to measure the genetic effects of exposure," says Dudley Goodhead, who directs the MRC Radiation and Genome Stability Unit in Harwell, UK. "[The Kazakhstan work] indicates that mutations can occur at an enormously high rate."

The researchers still do not know whether this genetic damage has caused health problems for the area’s children, or whether it will do so in the future, because mutations only rarely result in disease. "It wouldn’t be surprising," says Goodhead. But researchers agree that any effects of inherited mutations are likely to be small and difficult to detect against the normal incidence rates of cancer and disease.

People directly exposed to radiation by the atomic-bomb detonations in Japan during the Second World War and by nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl, suffer increased rates of cancer. But the common perception that exposed individuals bear children with deformities is not backed up by scientific study.

Measuring the legacy

Measuring the mutation rate caused by radiation has proved difficult, explains Goodhead. Any given gene will be affected rarely, so only a large population would reveal an accurate frequency - and no such human population exists.

Dubrova instead looked at DNA fingerprints, which show many short sections of DNA that spontaneously vary, or mutate, from generation to generation. In 1996, he showed that children born in Belarus after the Chernobyl disaster have a higher rate of such mutations2.

In the Semipalatinsk population, the team found that the more years people were exposed to the radiation, the greater their mutation rate.

Knowing how the rate varies with radiation dose could be used to screen populations for suspected exposure. "We’d love to know that," says David Rush, who studies the health effects of radiation at Tufts University in Boston.

Test ban

Alongside the Soviet Union, the United States carried out above-ground nuclear tests in the Nevada desert; both nations ceased testing with the Moscow treaty in 1963. The Semipalatinsk site was closed in 1989 as part of the campaign to establish a comprehensive test-ban treaty. This treaty has yet to be ratified.

The Kazakhstan population has since fought for financial and health compensation, and Dubrova hopes that his work might help their cause: "I would be delighted if that were the case," he says.

References

  1. Dubrova, Y.E. Nuclear weapons tests and human germline mutation rate. Science, 295, 1037, (2002).
  2. Dubrova, Y.E. et al. Human minisatellite mutation rate after the Chernobyl accident. Nature, 380, 683 - 686(1996).


HELEN PEARSON | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/020204/020204-10.html

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>