The earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Japan nuclear power plant resulted in large scale radiation releases. While Science Fiction predicted creatures such as Godzilla resulting from massive nuclear radiation releases into the ocean, actual scientists have found a disturbing change on a more modest scale in one of creations humblest of creatures. Scientists collecting the pale grass blue butterfly have found disturbing physiological and genetic damage, according to a report published late last week in Nature Magazine.
Two months after the accident, in May 2011, scientists collected 144 adult pale grass blue butterflies (Zizeeria maha) from 10 locations in Japan, including the Fukushima area. At the time of the accident, the butterflies would have been “overwintering” as larvae. By comparing the butterflies the team found that those collected near the nuclear disaster showed more mutations than those collected elsewhere.
“It has been believed that insects are very resistant to radiation. In that sense, our results were unexpected,” said lead researcher Joji Otaki from the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa.
The team then bred the collected butterflies in a lab well away from the nuclear accident. The offspring of those butterflies showed genetic abnormalities that hadn’t been present in the previous generation. The second generation of offspring from that generation showed the abnormalities were inherited.
Adult butterflies collected in the field in September 2011 showed more severe abnormalities than in those collected in May.
This much research showed that the genetic abnormalities were inheritable, due to something occurring in the vicinity of the nuclear calamity. They also bred other butterflies and after exposing them artificially to similar radiation, those butterflies also showed abnormalities. This demonstrated that it was radiation exposure which caused the genetic abnormalities in the affected butterflies.
Precise information on exactly what occurred, and is occurring, around the Fukushima reactors is yet to be established, and the lack of information “raises serious concerns about biological influences on living organisms that could ultimately produce long-term destruction of ecosystems and cause chronic diseases.” In particular the effects of low-dose radiation exposure on animals, plants and humans is a matter of debate. The research team had already been studying Zizeeria maha as an “indicator species” that could give early warning to evaluate environmental conditions. The research team have been able to show, in this case, with this species, genetic damage from low radiation doses, and that the mutations were inherited to subsequent generations.
In a way these butterflies are like the canary supposedly carried by coal mine to give them early warning against methane buildup. The genetic abnormalities demonstrated in these butterflies show that low-dose radiation exposure does cause damage which can be inherited to offspring.
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