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chernobyl

Where would we be without tabloids to inform us about important scientific news?

chernobyl1

Scientists fear wolves living in Chernobyl’s radioactive forbidden zone may be spreading mutant genes across Europe.

The European grey wolf population has boomed at the site since the human population moved out and it became a virtual wildlife preserve.

Research now reveals some of the wolves –?potentially affected by damaging radiation- have been crossing Ukraine’s borders into Russia and Belarus.

The news has sparked concerns among some in the scientific community that the animals may mate and spread mutant genes to other packs.

Ahem. You can’t get infected with radiation; it’s not like a bacteria or a virus or a parasite. But we roughly get what “The Sun” is trying to get at in its tabloidise. A much bigger problem is that no one really knows if the descendants of wolves affected by the Chernobyl fallout have mutant genes and if so what they exactly are. It’s probably safe to assume that some mutation of the lupine DNA have occurred, but for all we know it could be nothing that has any practical impact, or maybe the wolves’ fur is now on average half a millimetre shorter. It’s certainly nothing that’s immediately apparent when looking at the Chernobyl wolf pack. As one of the authors of the study says (quoted near the very end of the story, of course), “No wolves there were glowing – they all have four legs, two eyes and one tail.” So perhaps it’s not quite time yet to panic about any mutant genes that might or might not exist and might or might not be getting spread to other wolves. We all – that’s an exaggeration, please note – would love to see some wolves with glowing green eyes and supernatural powers roaming the Eastern European forests and savaging tourists, but I’m afraid we’ll have to wait a bit longer.

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