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Dogs living near Chernobyl are genetically different to others in the world

Dogs living near Chernobyl are genetically different to others in the world

Many dogs were abandoned as residents evacuated the area

Studies involving the dogs living near Chernobyl have revealed the exposure to radiation may have made them genetically different to other dogs across the globe.

As heartbreaking as it might be to hear, it's a fact that many of the families living around Chernobyl when the nuclear disaster took place were forced to leave behind their precious pets.

Thousands of people lost their lives as a result of exposure to the radiation leaking from the nuclear power plant, but while wildlife populations in the area were largely devastated, some dogs managed to survive.

There are hundreds of dogs living near Chernobyl.
REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

Almost 40 years on, the pet dogs are no longer around, but there are still hundreds of wild dogs roaming the area. It was these animals that researchers focused on in the study, which involved looking at blood samples of 302 dogs collected between 2017 and 2019.

All of the animals came from populations living either within the power plant itself, or between 15 and 45 kilometres from the site.

Geneticist Elaine Ostrander, of the National Human Genome Research Institute, described the study as a 'golden opportunity' to lay the groundwork for answering the question of: “How do you survive in a hostile environment like this for 15 generations?”

Ostrander explained that scientists initially expected dogs to have intermingled so much over time that their DNA would be very similar.

When looking at the DNA, however, the researchers were able to identify about 15 different family structures which were unique compared with other dogs. It's thought this is a reflection of the long exposure the dogs have had to ionizing radiation.

Scientists could tell how close the dogs lived to Chernobyl.
Serkant Hekimci / Alamy Stock Photo

Scientists were also able to identify which dogs lived in areas of high radiation exposure versus those living near low and medium levels of exposure.

Ostrander told IFLScience: “I think the most remarkable thing about the study is that we identify populations of dogs living in and in the shadow of the reactor, and we can tell who those dogs are just by looking at their DNA profile.

"To think of families living in places like near spent fuel rods is incredible and speaks to the resilience of dogs as a species.

“We also find that the dogs living in the exclusion zone now are likely descendants of pets from people that fled the area when the explosion happened. We can see the history of those pets etched in the DNA of dogs living in the exclusion zone today."

With the initial results in, Ostrander told the Associated Press scientists can begin to look for alterations in the DNA, asking questions like 'what's mutated' and 'what's evolved'.

Such research could provide insights as to how humans and animals might survive in a world under 'continuous environmental assault'.

Featured Image Credit: Sergiy Romanyuk/Shutterstock/REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo

Topics: Chernobyl, Animals, Science