Wolves living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) have altered immune systems and have developed the ability to fight cancer, a new study has found. These animals, which are different from their counterparts outside the region, could prove key to helping humans combat this deadly disease, according to the study. Humans left the area after a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl plant exploded in 1986, causing carcinogenic radiation into the environment. An area of 2,590 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) was cordoned off and people were prevented from visiting it.
But the wolves continued to roam and do not appear to be affected by chronic radiation exposure, according to the study presented last month at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in the United States.
It was led by Cara Love, an evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist in Shane Campbell-Staton’s lab at Princeton University. For nine years she has been studying wolves at the CEZ.
In 2014, Love and his team entered the ZEC and fitted them with GPS radio collars equipped with radiation dosimeters. They also took blood from the animals to understand their responses to cancer-causing radiation, as mentioned in the research.
These collars helped the research team identify the exact location of the wolves and determine the level of radiation they were exposed to.
according to IFL ScienceCEZ wolves were exposed daily to 11.28 millirem of radiation, more than six times the legal safe limit for humans.
The immune system of the Chernobyl wolves seemed different from those in other parts of the world. The research team discovered that the wolf genome has developed some resistance to cancer.
Love said in a statement that they identified specific regions of the wolf genome that showed resistance to increased cancer risk.
Researchers will now examine how similar genetic mutations in humans could increase the chances of surviving cancer.
“Our priority is to keep people and employees as safe as possible,” Love said.
Similar effects were observed in dogs living in the ZEC.