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Chernobyl swallows suffer genetic damage

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(October 31, 1997) Barn swallows in the Chernobyl region have suffered permanent genetic damage, including albino effects, as a result of radiation from the 1986 nuclear meltdown, according to Swedish researchers. Already, in 1995, US researchers found mutant mice near Chernobyl.

(480.4761) WISE Amsterdam -A team of researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, led by associate professor Hans Ellegren, reported (in the October 9 issue of Nature) that swallows breeding near the meltdown Chernobyl reactor suffered genetic damage not encountered by swallows breeding in two control areas. The control areas lie only 100 kilometers from Chernobyl, but were spared radioactivity because of wind conditions.

The number of albino swallows in Chernobyl is much larger than in the control areas. Some feathers have lost all their color and turned white. Even genetic fingerprinting showed that birds from Chernobyl have a higher frequency of genetic damage than birds in the control areas. Radiation can cause damage to the gene pool either through the body cells, which can cause cancer, and in the sex cells. Genetic damage to the sex cells -- eggs and sperm -- is hereditary. Because the damage is passed down from generation to generation, it is more serious in the long term. In 1995 researchers from the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology (United States) found that field mice in the contaminated zone mutated. In fact, the differences in the genes between normal mice and the Chernobyl mice were greater than that found between mice and rats, species that diverged some 15 million years ago.


  • AFP, 9 October 1997
  • WISE News Communique 437.4324: Chernobyl, mutant mice, 18 August 1995

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