After the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which occurred in April 1986, the inhabitants of nearby towns were evacuated, leaving many of their belongings behind. The departure was so fast that some even left their pets there. Some sacrificed themselves, but others managed to escape. For this reason, since then a population of dogs has settled in the area, known as the Chernobyl dogswhich are now, according to a new study, genetically different from those living in other parts of the world.
It is not about the dogs that suffered the nuclear disaster, but about their descendants. Some live in the plant itself, others in nearby ghost towns, such as Pripyat. But they all have something in common: the ionizing radiation to which they have been exposed for years They have made a dent in their DNA.
And this, by boat soon, could be good. Against all odds, most of Chernobyl’s dogs are in good health. Therefore, it is possible that dogs, in general, are resistant to radiation. But it is also possible that they have suffered mutations that have given them that resistance. The next step for these scientists, whose data have been published in Science Advancesit will be precisely to analyze how these changes in DNA influence your health.
The DNA of the Chernobyl dogs
To carry out this study, the researchers took samples of 302 dogsbetween 2017 and 2019. Some lived in the plant itself and others up to 45 kilometers away.
It should be said that these dogs live in a semi-wild state. That is, they are not totally abandoned. Although the nuclear power plant is no longer in use, there are still people working on it. For example, scientists who regularly take measurements of radiation levels and their effects on the environment. All these people are in charge of bring food to the dogs of Chernobyl.
In addition, from time to time they come vets who vaccinate them and check their health status. That is precisely why we can know that this has not been very affected by radiation. We also know that some of these animals may have been associated with dogs in populated areas. However, it is to be expected that most of them have reproduced with each other.
For this reason, these scientists wanted to see if there were changes in their DNA with respect to that of dogs living in other places in the world. And yes there were. In fact, they had such a clear genetic profile that it was possible to tell them apart from other dogs just by looking at the sequencing results.
They are not different species
There are many definitions of species. But, broadly speaking, they are considered to be those whose genetic divergence is such that they cannot reproduce with each other or, if they do, They do not give rise to fertile offspring.
Generally this occurs when a population becomes isolated and evolves separately from the rest. In this case, we might think that something like this has happened. The Chernobyl dogs are separate from other dogs and also have important genetic differences.
However, it takes a long time for two populations to diverge to become different species. It hasn’t been that long there. In addition, we have already seen that they are not so isolated and, in fact, they continue to interbreed with dogs from inhabited areas and have fertile offspring.
Therefore, although the dogs of Chernobyl are so genetically differentThey are still dogs. But, perhaps, dogs with a series of advantages that are worth investigating.