Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chernobyl, a Place of Rebirth?

Daniel Filippi

Chernobyl, just hearing the word causes chills to radiate down your back. In 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near
the town of Pripyat the most serious nuclear disaster in human history occurred. Countless people perished due to the explosion and hundreds became stricken with acute radiation sickness over the years following the horrific tragedy. Twenty – four years later though there seems to be some hope for resettlement of the area but for the meantime only plants appear to possess this potential luxury.

The Chernobyl incident has caused substantial amounts of radiation damage with long-lived radioisotopes 90Sr and 137Cr in Pripyat and the surrounding area for over two decades. Recently, scientists have found a glimmer of hope in the troubled past of Chernobyl. They have discovered that the local ecosystem has been able to adapt to the isotopes to s
ome degree. The main plants in question are local flax and soybeans grown near the area. These plants were able to handle their harsh living environment with great capability. Both types of plants were tested on their ability to cope with the hostile environment they live in. Scientists were able to do this by taking samples of flax and soybean plants and observing their growth/germination process, weight and colour of seeds in both the affected area and the control area (the control area was near the town of Zhukyn, 100km away from the Chernobyl plant).

Graph B is depicting the weight in 10
seeds from black (the control site) and red
(the contaminated site).
Graph A is depicting the germination
percentage in flax seeds over a period of time
which is recorded in hours.

The team of scientists came from all over Ukraine, Slovakia, and the States stated that what they were doing seemed unimpressingly similar to that of experiments observing the changes in the genes of plants exposed to high levels of radiation. This in fact was not what they were trying to show at all, what they were trying to see was how and what
was allowing and maintaining plant life in the area. How they discovered whether or not plants near the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear plant were growing normally was by applying a specific method that could help them view hundreds of different proteins inside the plants called proteomics. Proteomics is the study and classification of proteins in all living organisms and it’s sole purpose is to determine how they interact with each other and their surrounding environment (iSciWNY, 2010).

After testing their hypothesis between the control and infected plants scientists established very interesting results, which were quite astonishing indeed. They found that when they compared the seeds of the soybeans to that of the flax seeds they noticed that surprisingly, the soybean seeds had obtained10 times more radioactivity than that of the flax seeds. The scientists, who were very intrigued by their findings, went into deeper analysis of the flax seeds and how much they differed from that of the control flax. The scientists characterized the flax seeds, which at this time were both at full maturity and they checked the two different seeds’ physical differences. They stated that there was none found in manifestation or weight, the only notable difference between the two was the germination percentage between the control and the radioactively contaminated seeds. Even then, the percentage of the radioactively contaminated seeds was only slightly different from the control (35 of the 720 plants in the Chernobyl area had differently abundant and mature seeds compared to that of the norm), thus making the possibility of the Chernobyl area becoming fit for human habitation very real.
Interestingly enough, though the seeds of the soybean plant were more susceptible to radiation then that of the flax seeds they found that the soybeans’ seeds showed increased levels of glycine betaine. What glycine betaine has been reported to do is in fact protect blood cells (in animals) from IR (Iridium Radiation) damage. They believe that this enzyme may indeed also be protecting the plants from the radiation of Chernobyl!

After all of their findings the team of scientists tried to uncover why these plants would have been able to survive in these harsh condition attributed by the radiation after nearly a quarter of a century later. They came to the conclusion that because of evolution a certain metabolic response to the changes in the plants’ environment is the key to explaining this natural phenomenon. They noticed that exposure to environmental stress caused increased respiration and glycolytic flux (this means that the flux has effected the rate of which glucose was broken down, and in turn created more energy for the plant to survive) (Wiktionary, 21/5/2010). This is what the team had set out to determine about the plants found growing in the Chernobyl area. Some sort of metabolic response to this glycolytic flux is allowing these plants to survive.

Currently the scientists who already conducted this study are investigating more thoroughly into the area and hope to obtain new information soon about this promising theory. They hope that if plants are able to survive these harsh conditions possibly one day soon in the near future humans may return to inhabit the area of Chernobyl. (Klubicova, Katarina, Maksym Danchenko, Ludovit Skultety, Jan A. Miernyk, and Valentyna V. Berezhna, 6940-6946).

Works Cited

Klubicova, Katarina, Maksym Danchenko, Ludovit Skultety, Jan A. Miernyk, and Valentyna V. Berezhna. "Proteomics Analysis of Flax Grown in Chernobyl Area Suggests Limited Effect of Contaminated Environment on Seed Proteome." Environmental Science & Technology 44.18 6940-6946. Web. 11 Oct 2010.

"Glycolysis." Wiktionary. N.p., 21/5/2010. Web. 11 Oct 2010. .

"Glossary: Proteomics ." iSciWNY. Educational Opportunity Center, 2010. Web. 11 Oct 2010. .

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