March 25, 2023

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The mutations suffered by the frogs near the Chernobyl power plant. What scientists have discovered

Mutant black frogs are breeding near the Chernobyl power plant, 36 years after its catastrophic explosion unleashed one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

Eastern tree frogs are meant to have bright green skin, but scientists working near Chernobyl have found many with darker or black skin, the Daily Mail reports.

In 1986, the area of ​​northern Ukraine – then under Soviet rule – witnessed the largest release of radioactive material into the environment in human history.

Now scientists believe the mutant frogs’ darker skin may have helped them survive in the exclusion zone, which today restricts access to more than 16,000 square kilometers around ground zero.

“We became aware of these frogs the very first night we worked at Chernobyl,” said Germán Orizaola, a researcher at the University of Oviedo in Spain who co-authored the new study.

“We were looking for this species near the damaged power plant and we detected many frogs that were just black,” he added.

Melanin is responsible for the dark or black coloration in many organisms, including frogs.

“At the same time, we know that melanin protects against damage caused by different types of radiation, from UV to ionizing radiation – the kind from Chernobyl.”

For their study, Dr. Orizaola and his co-author, Pablo Burraco, collected more than 200 male frogs from 12 ponds with varying levels of radiation.

They found that the frogs in the exclusion zone were much blacker than those outside it.

And while there was no correlation between the blackest frogs and the most irradiated places today, there was a correlation with the worst affected places at the time of the accident.

In other words, blacker frogs had a better chance of survival when the disaster struck in 1986, making them more numerous today.

“With this species it is possible to find, under normal circumstances, a small percentage of frogs with an unusual coloration,” said Germán Orizaola.

“This small percentage would have benefited from the protection of melanin, especially at the time of the accident, when the radiation level was much higher and the diversity of radioisotopes wider. In this scenario, they should have survived better and reproduced better than normal green frogs,” he added.

“Over time – 10 to 12 generations of frogs have passed since the accident – this would have resulted in these black frogs being predominant in the exclusion zone,” the scientist noted.

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