Adaptation to Oxidative Stress in Birds at Chernobyl

Recently the following paper received major coverage in the New York Times:

“Chronic exposure to low-dose radiation at Chernobyl favours adaptation to oxidative stress in birds”, Ismael Galvan, Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati, Shanna Jenkinson, Ghanem Ghanem,
Kazumasa Wakamatsu, Timothy A. Mousseau and Anders P. Møller,
Functional Ecology 2014 doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12283.

The New York Times piece can be read at:

Entitled “At Chernobyl, Hints of Nature’s Adaptation“, by Henry Fountain, the New York Times piece was published on May 5, 2014.

The New York Times states that “…Some bird species, they reported in the journal Functional Ecology, appear to have adapted to the radioactive environment by producing higher levels of protective antioxidants, with correspondingly less genetic damage. For these birds, Dr. Mousseau said, chronic exposure to radiation appears to be a kind of “unnatural selection” driving evolutionary change.”

and further:

“Dr. Mousseau dismisses the idea that the zone is some kind of post-apocalyptic Eden. But the latest study has given him pause, he said, because it shows the kind of adaptations that may allow some creatures — chaffinches and great tits in this case, though not barn swallows or robins — to thrive in the zone. However, it remains to be seen whether these species are truly thriving, Dr. Mousseau said.

The findings also suggest that in some cases radiation levels might have an inverse effect — birds in areas with higher radiation exposure may show greater adaptation, and thus less genetic damage, than those in areas with lower radiation levels.” (End quotes)

I have obtained the complete paper by Galvan, Mousseau et. al., and am currently studying it.

I will post here my understanding of the paper in the light of the fact that Mousseau and Moller have confirmed that some bird species – for example the Barn Swallow – have been disadvantaged by the environmental contamination around Chernobyl.

The adaptation of species to environmental change and threats within the environment comes at the cost of the vulnerable individuals within a species, whether that be species be animal, bird or human.

Where some individuals and some species are able to adapt while others are not, the balance of nature and the range of individuals within a species changes.

While nuclear industry obviously considers these changes to be a good thing, those of less partial interests may do well to consider whether celebration is actually appropriate.

Certainly, for species less able to adapt to the poisoning of Chernobyl and its surroundings, there is no obvious cause for joy.

Such enviornmental change and imposed risk, when deliberately forced upon humans, is called “Eugenics”. It is for this reason that the Chernobyl exclusion zone is an ethical imperative. As much as nuclear industry claims there is no need for the exclusion zone.

The comparative morality applied to contaminated zones in Japan, to which people have no choice, given the policy of the Japanese government, concerns me to a great degree.

As does the actual conditions and quality of life experienced by those living in afflicted areas of Belarus and Ukraine today.

In the case of humans more over, the paradoxical role of a critical and potent free radical, nitric oxide, in natural cancer suppression and prevention, may well be compromised if the adaptation of increased anti-oxidant production, as displayed by some of the bird species at Chernobyl, were to take place.

The roles of Nitric Oxide within the human is simply explained by Wikipedia here:

D A Wink et. al. explain the actions of Nitric Oxide in humans as follows: “The roles of nitric oxide (NO) in numerous disease states have generated considerable discussion over the past several years. NO has been labeled as the causative agent in different pathophysiological mechanisms, yet appears to protect against various chemical species such as those generated under oxidative stress. Similarly, NO appears to exert a dichotomy of effects within the multistage model of cancer. Chronic inflammation can lead to the production of chemical intermediates, among them NO, which in turn can mediate damage to DNA. Yet, NO also appears to be critical for the tumoricidal activity of the immune system. Furthermore, NO can also have a multitude of effects on other aspects of tumor biology, including angiogenesis and metastasis. This report will discuss how the chemistry of NO may impact the initiation and progression stages of cancer.” (The multifaceted roles of nitric oxide in cancer.
D A Wink, Y Vodovotz, J Laval, F Laval, M W Dewhirst and J B Mitchell, Carcinogenesis (1998) 19 (5): 711-721. doi: 10.1093/carcin/19.5.711).

Humans, further, are distinct from many animals species – we cannot produce, for example, Vitamin C, a potent anti-oxidant.

Thus it can be seen that the adaptations witnessed in the animal kingdom are not valid indicators of what is or what is not, a beneficial environment for human individuals, communities, and our species as a whole.

The disturbing fact remains that the human cost of Chernobyl is argued over to this day, while we, the lay public, must grasp at straws, from having little or no insight into what is or what is not Chernobyl related suffering. It is unlikely that the Great Tit of Chernobyl will provide any concrete answer. The Barn Swallow remains a warning, as if it were a modern variant of the coal miners’ canary.

In any study of a changed environment it would be strange indeed not to find individuals and species advantaged by a change. It would also be strange indeed not to find individuals and species disadvantaged by the same change.

In human terms, “Are you feeling lucky? Well do you, punk?”: Dirty Harry.

The induction of increased oxidative stress is one way in which radiation creates risk and harm. It is not the only vector of risk and harm. In the late 1950s and 1960s, some sections of nuclear industry eagerly awaited the evolution of the radiation resistant human, due to chronic exposure to bomb fallout. (Earnest Rock-Carling, Chair, ICRP, Atoms for Peace Conference, Geneva, 1955.)

The lesson from cigarette smoking induced disease since World War 2 is this: There is no sign of a tobacco related adaption in humans. Lung cancer rates go up with smoking rates. The lung cancer rates go down when smoking rates go down.

Why then should I expect the by now habitual explosion of nuclear power plants to induce a humanity resistant to such nuclear exhaust?

The longer one smokes, the greater the risk. The longer nuclear power plants exist on the planet, the greater the risk.

The industry would have it that the longer one is exposed to nuclear exhaust, the safer one is, due to hormesis.

Patent crap in my opinion. Ask a tobacco widow. There is no beneficial dose for tobacco. And none, I submit, for plutonium either.

What if, in the event of increased consumption of anti-oxidant pills by an individual, the result was “excess” “mopping up” of Nitric Oxide by the increased amount of anti-oxidant in the person’s system? Would that individual be more or less vulnerable to cancers and other diseases?

Yes, its a pity we have to breathe oxygen, a gas commonly described as reactive and toxic.

Nuclear industry often claims that synergy is an unproven concept. (It isn’t). Heightened “toxicity” or “reactivity” of oxygen and its radicals (along with hydrogen radicals) is one of the sure signs of synergistic effects of radiation when combined with oxygen. Why else would Nuclear industry spend so much money per year mitigating against radiation enhanced reactor steel corrosion at every nuke power plant on the globe? The chemical of choice as a corrosion inhibitor in reactor coolant is hydrazine. Yea, the old WW2 Nazi rocket fuel. The Material Safety Data Sheet for Hydrazine is eye opening. Hydrazine, Zirconium, nuclear fuel, fission products and false assurances. Mix well and wait.

Reads like a tobacco advert.