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Nat Biotechnol. 1998 Nov;16(11):1054-9.

Transgenic plants are sensitive bioindicators of nuclear pollution caused by the Chernobyl accident.

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Ivano-Frankivsk State Medical Academy, Ukraine.


To evaluate the genetic consequences of radioactive contamination originating from the nuclear reactor accident of Chernobyl on indigenous populations of plants and animals, it is essential to determine the rates of accumulating genetic changes in chronically irradiated populations. An increase in germline mutation rates in humans living close to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant site, and a two- to tenfold increase in germline mutations in barn swallows breeding in Chernobyl have been reported. Little is known, however, about the effects of chronic irradiation on plant genomes. Ionizing radiation causes double-strand breaks in DNA, which are repaired via illegitimate or homologous recombination. We make use of Arabidopsis thaliana plants carrying a beta-glucuronidase marker gene as a recombination substrate to monitor genetic alterations in plant populations, which are caused by nuclear pollution of the environment around Chernobyl. A significant (p<0.05) increase in somatic intrachromosomal recombination frequencies was observed at nuclear pollution levels from 0.1-900 Ci/km2, consistent with an increase in chromosomal aberrations. This bioindicator may serve as a convenient and ethically acceptable alternative to animal systems.

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