Chernobyl species decline linked to DNA

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Scientists working in Chernobyl have found a way to predict which species there are likely to be most severely damaged by radioactive contamination.

The secret to a species' vulnerability, they say, lies in its DNA.

This discovery could reveal which species are most likely to decline or even become extinct in response to other types of environmental stress.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

Professor Tim Mousseau from the University of South Carolina, US, and Dr Anders Moller from the National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris, France, led the study.

The two scientists have been working in Chernobyl for more than a decade, gathering data about the populations of insects, birds and mammals in "zone of alienation" surrounding the desolate nuclear power station.

For this study, they used existing databases to examine in detail the DNA patterns of each of the species they had studied in Chernobyl.

DNA secret
With every generation of a species' lineage, the pattern of its DNA changes ever so slightly, as a result of the natural balance between mutations and the individual's ability to repair damaged DNA. This is how species evolve.

The rate of this change - as each piece of the DNA code is replaced by another - is called the substituion rate....

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