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Are Mutant Wolves Roaming Human-Free Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Key to Curing Cancer?

Wolves Roaming Chernobyl Developed Cancer-Resilient Abilities: Study
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Mutant wolves have reportedly developed cancer-resilient genomes in Chernobyl, study says.

Feb. 13 2024, Published 1:02 p.m. ET

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A new study shows that mutant wolves, which happen to roam in the human-free Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, have reportedly developed cancer-resilient genomes that could be crucial in helping humans fight the deadly disease.

In 1986, a nuclear reactor exploded as a Chernobyl power plant, becoming the world’s worst nuclear accident. Since then, wild animals have managed to adapt and survive even with the high levels of radiation, according to the New York Post.

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After the explosion, humans left the area because cancer-causing radiation was being leaked into the environment. A 1,000-square-mile zone had been roped off to prevent further exposure to humans.

In the 38 years since that nuclear disaster, wildlife seems to have reclaimed the area — including wolf packs that seem to be unaffected by the chronic exposure to the radiation, experts said.

Cara Love, an evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist from Princeton University, has been studying the mysteries of these mutant wolves. Presenting her findings at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle, Love unveiled the astonishing resilience of these creatures.

For the study, Love and her colleagues went inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and equipped the wild wolves with GPS collars that included radiation dosimeters.

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The researchers also took blood from the animals to help understand their responses to the cancer-causing radiation, according to a release published by the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Love said the data they were able to collect gave them real-time insights into the wolves’ movements and radiation exposure levels, which, at 11.28 millirem daily, exceeded six times the safety limit for humans.

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Researchers also noticed that the wolves’ immune systems appeared different than normal wolves — similar to those of cancer patients going through radiation treatment.

Love was also able to pinpoint specific regions of the wolf genome that seem to be resilient to increased cancer risk, the study showed.

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The implications of this research are huge. It challenges conventional wisdom surrounding gene mutations associated with cancer, suggesting avenues for enhancing human resilience.

Furthermore, it sheds light on the resilience of Chernobyl's canine inhabitants, descendants of former residents' pets. Although research on these Chernobyl dogs remains scarce, their potential resilience to cancer warrants further investigation.

While the study has provided great intel, the work of Love and her colleagues has been stalled because they have been unable to return to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone — first due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.


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