Research expedition to Fukushima seeks to unveil genetic and ecological effects of radiation on animals and plants
Jul 11 2011

Research expedition to Fukushima seeks to unveil genetic and ecological effects of radiation on animals and plants

  • International project led by University of South Carolina aims to provide long-term data from Japan with aim to improve hazard assessment of nuclear accidents
  • QIAGEN collaboration offers technologies and aid to develop new methods to rapidly assess radiation impact on DNA and other molecules
  • First study results from Japan expected before the end of 2011, building on previous research work on the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster

Germantown, Maryland, and Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, July 11, 2011 - A new international scientific expedition led by the University of South Carolina and supported by the biotechnology company QIAGEN is seeking to measure the genetic impact of radioactivity on animals and plants in areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan. The initiation of field work today in Japan marks the beginning of a long-term research project designed to better understand the actual impact of radiation on molecular building blocks of life such as DNA and the consequences for ecosystems. The work will build on research results gained following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster with an aim to provide more comprehensive data for hazard assessment of nuclear accidents.

The expedition team consists of biologists from the University of South Carolina in the U.S., the University of Paris-Sud in France, and the University of Tokyo, Fukushima University, and Nagasaki University in Japan. The University of South Carolina and University of Paris-Sud also have been leading an international research initiative started in 2000 to assess the long-term ecological and health consequences of radioactive contaminants from Chernobyl.

QIAGEN is providing the scientists with unique molecular technologies, including  solutions for stabilization and protection of sensitive genetic material to prevent further damage that might affect the reliability of research results. QIAGEN also is assisting in developing and optimizing methods to assess the impact of radiation on DNA, RNA and other molecules of interest in animal and plant life. Initial results of the expedition are expected to be available before the end of 2011.

"The Fukushima disaster has stimulated intense public debate about the risks associated with nuclear energy. But very little is known about the actual long-term effects of such incidents on our environment and health," said Professor Tim Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, who is heading the research expedition. "Our work in Japan is a unique opportunity to learn more about the radiation-induced changes to individual organisms, species and the entire ecosystem and to monitor the development from the first generation onwards. We are glad to team up with QIAGEN, whose unique technologies are instrumental for this work."

"We believe this research project is of utmost importance and will help place the international debate regarding long-term effects of nuclear incidents such as Fukushima on a reliable footing," said Dr. Joachim Schorr, Senior Vice President Research and Development at QIAGEN. "We are proud to support the work of these eminent scientists, which showcases the importance of molecular technologies in environmental studies and will also aid the development of reliable methods for the rapid assessment of radiation-induced changes to the DNA."

The researchers plan to collect and analyze a variety of samples of insects, plants, and birds, focusing on geographically widespread species to allow for comparability of the research results with data generated during similar research expeditions to Chernobyl.

Unlike in the Ukraine, where contaminated areas remained inaccessible for extended periods, researchers in Japan expect for the very first time to examine both the parent generation directly affected by the nuclear catastrophe, as well as their first offspring after the incident. This will allow for a comprehensive study of cumulative effects of nuclear pollution and its consequences for individual animals, species and the ecosystem from the first generation onwards.

To this end, the research team will collect samples of blood and other tissues that will be analyzed on a genetic level to determine the intensity of damage to the DNA and RNA and whether these effects could multiply through future generations.

Researchers are planning to return to Fukushima on a regular basis, continuously expanding their scope of work to other species, and also to carry out studies in other regions where radiation levels are naturally higher, such as in India.

More information about the research project is available online at http://cricket.biol.sc.edu/chernobyl/Chernobyl_Research_Initiative/Introduction.html.

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