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J Environ Radioact. 2013 Jul;121:22-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2012.03.007. Epub 2012 Apr 5.

Effects of long-term chronic exposure to radionuclides in plant populations.

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Russian Institute of Agricultural Radiology and Agroecology, Kievskoe shosse, 109 km, 249020 Obninsk, Russia.


The results of field studies carried out on different plant species (winter rye and wheat, spring barley, oats, Scots pine, wild vetch, crested hairgrass) in various radioecological situations (nuclear weapon testing, the Chernobyl accident, uranium and radium processing) to investigate the effects of long-term chronic exposure to radionuclides are discussed. Plant populations growing in areas with relatively low levels of pollution are characterized by an increased level of both cytogenetic disturbances and genetic diversity. Although ionizing radiation causes primary damage at the molecular level, there are emergent effects at the level of populations, non-predictable from the knowledge of elementary mechanisms of cellular effects formation. Accumulation of cellular alterations may afterward influence biological parameters important for populations such as health and reproduction. Presented data provide evidence that in plant populations inhabiting heavily contaminated territories cytogenetic damage could be accompanied by a decrease in reproductive capacity. However, in less contaminated sites, because of the scarcity of data available, a steady relationship between cytogenetic effects and reproductive capacity was not revealed. Under radioactive contamination of the plant's environment, a population's resistance to exposure may increase. However, there are radioecological situations where an enhanced radioresistance has not evolved or has not persisted.

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