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Plant Physiol. 2004 May;135(1):357-63. Epub 2004 May 7.

Molecular aspects of plant adaptation to life in the Chernobyl zone.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1K 3M4.


With each passing year since the Chernobyl accident of 1986, more questions arise about the potential for organisms to adapt to radiation exposure. Often this is thought to be attributed to somatic and germline mutation rates in various organisms. We analyzed the adaptability of native Arabidopsis plants collected from areas with different levels of contamination around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant from 1986 to 1992. Notably, progeny of Chernobyl plants resisted higher concentrations of the mutagens Rose Bengal and methyl methane sulfonate. We analyzed the possible molecular mechanisms of their resistance to mutagens and found a more than 10-fold lower frequency of extrachromosomal homologous recombination, significant differences in the expression of radical scavenging (CAT1 and FSD3) and DNA-repair (RAD1 and RAD51-like) genes upon exposure to mutagens (Rose Bengal and x-rays), and a higher level of global genome methylation. This data suggests that adaptation to ionizing radiation is a complex process involving epigenetic regulation of gene expression and genome stabilization that improves plants' resistance to environmental mutagens.

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