Comprehensive investigation of Chernobyl bacteria reveals signs of adaptation to radiation

Comprehensive investigation of Chernobyl bacteria reveals signs of adaptation to radiation

2023-06-01 11:05:51

The most comprehensive study to date of microbial communities of the Chernobyl exclusion zone (Ukraine) has revealed a great diversity of bacteria and some signs of its adaptation to the radiation released after the nuclear accident. This is indicated by an investigation led by the University of Oviedo and in which the Doñana-CSIC Biological Station and Brown University (USA) participate.

The study, which has just been published in Environmental Pollution, has found the same values ​​of diversity and richness of microorganisms in the sampled wetlands inside and outside the exclusion zone. The work has also detected several bacteria that present a greater abundance in areas with high radiation levelswhich indicates its high adaptability.

The work has detected several more abundant bacteria in areas with high levels of radiation, indicating a high adaptability.

Germán Orizaola, a researcher at the Department of Biology of Organisms and Systems at the University of Oviedo, recalls that it has just been 37 years since the accident in reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which caused the largest release of radioactive substances into the environment. of history.

“Several studies have examined the impact of the accident on nature and the renaturalization processes that are currently taking place in the area affected by radioactive contamination”, explains Orizaola.

“However, few studies have analyzed the situation of microbial communities, despite their crucial role in maintaining ecosystem functions due to its implication in the retention and release of carbon and the main nutrients of the soil”, he adds.

Inside and outside the exclusion zone

The fieldwork for this study was carried out in the spring of 2019 in different areas of northern Ukraine, both inside and outside the Chernobyl exclusion zone. A total of 21 wetlands were visited in which samples of both water, sediment from the ponds and the surrounding soil were taken to analyze the composition of microbial communities of the three environments.

The study found more than 20,000 different taxa of microorganisms in the locations examined.

These localities are distributed along a radiation gradient of more than three orders of magnitude, from areas with basal (uncontaminated) radiation levels, such as areas that experienced the highest radiation doses at the time of the accident. Once in the laboratory, metagenomic and bioinformatic analyzes were used to characterize the composition and diversity of the microorganism communities in each locality.

The study found more than 20,000 different taxa of microorganisms in the locations examined. The analyzes showed that the Chernobyl wetlands support rich and diverse microbial communities three decades after the accident.

“The richness and diversity of microbial communities in sediment, soil, and water was similar among sampled wetlands. inside and outside the exclusion zoneand these parameters were not affected by the different levels of radiation”, points out the researcher.

Radiation-associated differences

The composition of the microbial communities did present some differences in its composition associated with radiation, since some groups of bacteria were especially abundant in areas with the highest levels of radiation.

“These microorganisms corresponded, mainly, to common bacteria in radioactive environments (uranium mines, nuclear waste storage areas…); are able to reduce uranium and other metalsand suggest the existence of patterns of adaptation to radiation at the community level in the microorganisms of the area”, says Orizaola.

Chernobyl has fully functioning ecosystems in the exclusion zone, from endangered wildlife like bears to rich communities of bacteria

These results agree with previous studies that reveal that the Chernobyl exclusion zone currently maintains fully functional ecosystems and that shelter a great diversity of organisms, from the great threatened fauna (bears, lynx, wolves…) to rich communities of bacteria, presenting in some cases signs that suggest adaptation to radioactive environments.

“The study of the ecosystems of the areas affected by the nuclear accident is crucial for a correct evaluation of the environmental impact of the accident and to design response measures for potential future accidents. In addition, it provides key information to understand renaturation processes of the area”, concludes the researcher.

Rights: Creative Commons.

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