The 1986 catastrophe at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear reactor was the largest uncontrolled radioactive leak in history which released cancer-causing material in large quantities, and its impacts are still visible in the region.
In the latest report, mutant wolves present in Chornobyl’s deserted streets appear to have developed cancer resistance.
The study by the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology has boosted hopes that the results would help doctors combat the cancer disease in humans also.
The grey wolves in the highly radioactive area are exposed to 11.28 milligrammes of radiation per day, which is more than six times the allowable limit for humans.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate the city and ever since the area remained abandoned.
The Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) was set up to prevent people from entering the restricted 1,000-square-mile area, but the restriction doesn’t apply to animals and they enter the region with scientists analysing how wolves survive despite exposure to radioactive particles.
In the latest study, Cara Love, who is an evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist at Princeton University, found that the wolves in the CEZ have altered immune systems, which are “similar to cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment”.
In 2014, Dr Love and a team of researchers visited the CEZ and fitted the wolves with radio collars to track their activities. They had also taken samples.
Dr Love said that the collars give the team “real-time measurements of where [the wolves] are and how much [radiation] they are exposed to”.
She presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle, Washington, last month.