Wolves roaming the deserted streets of Chernobyl appear to have developed a resistance to cancer, according to a study, raising hopes that the findings could help scientists fight the disease in humans. The researchers found that some of their genetic information appears resistant to increased disease risk. In 1986 a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, with more than 100,000 people evacuated from the city due to the release of cancerous radiation. The area has since been cordoned off, with a 1,000-square-mile CEZ exclusion zone set up to prevent people from entering an area where radiation still poses a cancer risk. But wild animals such as wolves and horses still roam the wastelands.
The results of the study
Dr Cara Love, an evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist at Princeton University in the US, with a team of researchers, observed that Chernobyl wolves survived despite generations of exposure to radioactive particles. The team visited the CEZ in 2014 and placed radio collars on the wolves so their movements could be monitored in real time
also calculating the amount of radiation to which they are exposed. Blood samples were also taken to understand how the wolves’ bodies respond to cancer-causing radiation.
Altered immune system
The research found that wolves are exposed to more than 11.28 millirems of radiation every day over their lifetime, which is more than six times the legal safety limit for a human. Dr. Love found that they have altered immune systems similar to those of cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, but, more significantly, she also identified specific parts of the animals’ genetic information that appeared resistant to the increased cancer risk.
The stop of research due to the war
Much research on humans has discovered in mutations that increase the risk of cancer, the presence of the BRCA gene variant that makes it more likely that a woman will develop breast or ovarian cancer, for example. But Dr. Love’s work sought to identify protective mutations that increase the chances of surviving cancer. The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have prevented Dr. Love and her collaborators from returning to the CEZ in recent years. The team presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle, Washington, last month.