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 Dead trees are alive with fungi
10.01.2018 | Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)

nachricht Management of mountain meadows influences resilience to climate extremes
10.01.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

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: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

Im Focus: A thermometer for the oceans

Measurement of noble gases in Antarctic ice cores

The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...

Im Focus: Autoimmune Reaction Successfully Halted in Early Stage Islet Autoimmunity

Scientists at Helmholtz Zentrum München have discovered a mechanism that amplifies the autoimmune reaction in an early stage of pancreatic islet autoimmunity prior to the progression to clinical type 1 diabetes. If the researchers blocked the corresponding molecules, the immune system was significantly less active. The study was conducted under the auspices of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) and was published in the journal ‘Science Translational Medicine’.

Type 1 diabetes is the most common metabolic disease in childhood and adolescence. In this disease, the body's own immune system attacks and destroys the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fachtagung analytica conference 2018

15.01.2018 | Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Black hole spin cranks-up radio volume

15.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

A matter of mobility: multidisciplinary paper suggests new strategy for drug discovery

15.01.2018 | Life Sciences

New method to map miniature brain circuits

15.01.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>