Wolves roaming the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone have reported developed cancer-resilient genomes, which could be a major key in helping humans fight the deadly disease.
The wild animals have seemingly adapted to the high levels of radiation in the area following the nuclear reactor explosion in 1986, dubbed the worst nuclear accident in history.
The area is now human-free, allowing animals to survive and roam the site without human contact.
The area was evacuated after the cancer-causing radiation leaked into the environment, which covered a 1,000-square-mile zone.
However, almost 38 years later, wildlife has reclaimed the area and appears to be unaffected by chronic exposure to radiation.
The New York Post reported:
“Cara Love, an evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist in Shane Campbell-Staton’s lab at Princeton University, has been studying how the mutant wolves have evolved to survive their radioactive environment and presented her findings at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle, Washington, last month.
In 2014, Love and her colleagues entered the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone and put GPS collars equipped with radiation dosimeters on the wild wolves.
They also took blood from the animals to understand their responses to the cancer-causing radiation, according to a release published by the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology.
With the specialized collars, the researchers can get real-time measurements of where the wolves are and how much radiation they are exposed to, Love said.
Cara Love kneels above a sedated wolf with a special tracking collar on it.”
The scientists found that wolves are exposed to 11.28 milligrams of radiation, which is more than six times the legal safety limit for humans.
Researchers found the Chornobyl wolves’ immune systems appear much different to ordinary wolves, similar to cancer patients going through radiation treatment,
According to Love, specific regions of the wolf genome appear unaffected by the increased cancer risk, the release states.
Researchers now say the finding could be vital to increasing the odds of surviving cancer.
The Chornobyl dogs may also possess similar cancer resilience.
The wolves also appeared to have adapted better than other species — like birds, which suffered extreme genetic defects.
Scientists say the findings are especially valuable because canines fight off cancer more similarly to humans than lab rats.
However, Love’s research hit a roadblock after she and her colleagues were unable to return to the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.