470 nuclear weapons were detonated in Kazakhstan between 1949 and 1989
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.
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.
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.
HELEN PEARSON | © Nature News Service
Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology