No Evidence of Chernobyl Radiation Causing Transgenerational Effects

chernobyl disaster radiation
A school in Pryp'yat, Ukraine, abandoned following the Chernobyl disaster. Credits: Viktor Yatsuk/

According to a study, genomic sequencing of 130 children, born to parents exposed to the Chernobyl radiation, showed no additional DNA damage.

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster exposed millions of people to dangerously high levels of radiation. Hailed as the worst disaster in the history of nuclear power generation, it is estimated that the explosion released levels of radioactivity several times more than the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 35 years later the nuclear accident is still a topic of great interest among scientists.

For long researchers have wondered about the long-term effects of radiation on the human body. Previous studies have shown it to increase the number of germline de novo mutations in offspring. These mutations arise in the sperm and egg cells; therefore, resulting in genetic changes in children, but not the parents. Moreover, they play an important role in the development of several human diseases. However, there is a lack of data on the presence of these de novo mutations in children born to parents exposed to ionizing radiation.

Scientific questions about the effects of radiation on human health have been investigated since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and have been raised again by Chernobyl and by the nuclear accident that followed the tsunami in Fukushima, Japan

Dr Stephen J. Chanock, study author

To further explore the effects of ionizing radiation, a team of scientists at US National Cancer Institute (NCI) conducted whole-genome sequencing of 130 children. Researchers recruited children born between 1987-2002 to parents with Chernobyl radiation exposure. The parents had either worked as cleanup workers or lived around the accident site. Moreover, some of the parents had even experienced acute radiation syndrome due to exposure to extremely high levels of radiation.

Relief for Victims of Nuclear Disasters

Along with conducting whole-genome sequencing on the offspring, researchers also evaluated the parents for prolonged radiation exposure. Analysis of the offspring’s genome showed no additional increase in the number of genetic mutations. Moreover, the observed mutations were similar to those found in the general population. Therefore, indicating that exposure to ionizing radiation does not lead to transgenerational effects.

Moreover, the authors of the study believe the results are reassuring for people affected by the 2011 Fukushima accident. The evidence of minimal health impact provides a sense of relief for those concerned about having children because of their exposure to radiation from such accidents.

We view these results as very reassuring for people who were living in Fukushima at the time of the accident in 2011. The radiation doses in Japan are known to have been lower than those recorded at Chernobyl.

Dr Stephen J. Chanock, study author

The results of the study are available in the journal Science.


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