A recent study used genomic tools to investigate the potential health effects of exposure to carcinogen due to the 1986 Chernobyl accident. One study found no genetic changes are passed to children. In contrast, the second study found genetic changes in the tumors of people who developed thyroid cancer when exposed to the Chernobyl radiation as children or fetuses. 

Chernobyl Accident 

On April 26, 1986, a nuclear power plant in north Ukraine exploded and burned, and it is said to be one of history’s deadliest nuclear accidents. The accident released 80 peta becquerels of radioactive cesium, plutonium, strontium, and other radioactive. All these radioactive polluted 200 000km2 of land in Europe and the radioactive entered people’s lungs, settled on homes, livestock and became a radioactive byproduct. According to the official report, nearly 31 people died as an immediate result of the Chernobyl accident, but another international expert group predicts at least 600 000 persons.  

Genetic Level Effects of Chernobyl Radiation 

Researchers used cutting-edge genomic tools in two popular studies to investigate the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation. The findings were published on the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster by researchers at National Cancer Institute (NCI). The Chernobyl radiation exposed millions of people, the new research used next-generation DNA and other genomic tools to analyze biospecimens from people in Ukraine. 

First Study

The first study investigated whether radiation exposure harms genetic changes that can be passed from parent to offspring. Dr. Chanock with his team analyzed the genomes of 130 people born between 1987 and 2002 with their 105 mother-father pairs. This study mainly focuses on the children of workers who helped clean up the highly contaminated zone of the nuclear plant and other settlement zones. All the parents were evaluated for exposure to ionizing radiation. It is said that it might have occurred through the consumption of contaminated milk, i.e., cows would have grazed on pastures that contaminated radioactive fallout. The researchers said they were looking for something called de novo mutations. De novo are new mutations in DNA that arise randomly in a person’s sperms and eggs. 

De novo mutations can be transmitted to their offspring without not being observed in the parents. 

From this study, the researchers found that there was no evidence of an increase in the number of de novo mutations in the children born between 46 weeks and 15 years after the accident. So the effect of radiation on a parent’s body has no impact on the children. 

Second Study 

 In the second study, the researchers used next-generation sequencing to know about the genetic changes in the thyroid cancers that were developed in 359 people when they all were children and 81 unexposed individuals born nine months after the accident. Researchers say that people exposed to Chernobyl radiation saw an increased risk of thyroid cancer. The energy from the radiation breaks the DNA chemical bonds and results in different types of damage. A new study highlights a particular type of DNA damage that causes a break in DNA strands in thyroid tumors. The researchers found that the radiation exposure was stronger for children exposed to radiation at younger ages. They also found “drivers” of cancer in 95% of the tumors.   

From this study, the researchers observed a shift in the distribution of the types of mutations in the genes. Thyroid cancers occurred in people exposed to higher radiations as children were more likely to result from gene fusions.