In Brief

Are Chernobyl wolves spreading mutant genes?

Fears of contamination as young wolf traced 230 miles from home in radiation zone

Wolves from the Chernobyl site have been tracked roaming freely beyond the nuclear disaster zone’s border, sparking fears that they may spread mutant genes.

Chernobyl, near the border between Ukraine and Belarus, was declared officially off-limits to humans amid concerns over radiation following the meltdown at the then-Soviet nuclear power plant on 26 April 1986.

The area has been reopened for short-term visits by tourists in recent years, but visitors are told not to touch anything within the blast area and are screened for radioactive particles before they leave.

The lack of human activity in the 18.6-mile-wide exclusion zone has allowed animals to thrive there, with hundreds of wolves now roaming free, reports Sky News

Scientists have used GPS collars to track 13 fully grown grey wolves and one young male in order to see how far they stray from the exclusion zone.

Although the adults remained in the nearby area, the youngest was traced up to 229 miles (369km) away, according to the researchers, who have published their findings in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.

This “raises questions about the potential spread of radiation-induced genetic mutations to populations in uncontaminated areas”, says the research paper.

“Instead of being an ecological black hole, the Chernobyl exclusion zone might actually act as a source of wildlife to help other populations in the region,” wildlife ecologist Michael Byrne, who led the study, told the Live Science news website. “And these findings might not just apply to wolves - it’s reasonable to assume similar things are happening with other animals as well.”

However, Byrne noted that there is no evidence to prove that genetic mutations are being spread, adding: “No wolves there were glowing - they all have four legs, two eyes and one tail.”

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