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Science

Plants Near Chernobyl Adapt To Contaminated Soil 293

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-what-plants-crave dept.
lbalbalba writes "In April 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded and sent radioactive particles flying through the air, infiltrating the surrounding soil. Despite the colossal disaster, some plants in the area seem to have adapted well, flourishing in the contaminated soil."
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Plants Near Chernobyl Adapt To Contaminated Soil

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  • by grub (11606) * <slashdot@grub.net> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:13PM (#33670624) Homepage Journal

    Feed me, Seymour!
  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:14PM (#33670632) Journal
    in "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind"?

    Adapt or die.
    • by houghi (78078) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:58PM (#33671040)

      Obviously He has made the plants smart enough to make that selection. Intelligent Design and all, you know?

      (Ok, going to get modded troll for this or burn in hell.)

      • Made me smile! Nothing else to smile about here so I think you should wear your Troll badge with honor.
      • by cynyr (703126)

        ALL HAIL HIS HOLY NOODLELYNESS!!!!

        And some more stuff to get past the the "CAPS is yelling" filter. This should about do it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by siddesu (698447)

      Yeah, and also I remember the number of articles on slashdot about how wildlife was thriving there, which were then totally debunked.

      Then, when real research was carried out, wild animals turned out to have shorter lifespans, all kinds of genetic diseases, have smaller litter, more defective offspring and generally be much less healthy than elsewhere.

      If I had to bet, I'd bet this new "research" has about as much validity as the brouhaha about the Przhevalsky horses in 2002.

      But hey, the sexy chick on the mot

      • A nuclear waste land or a concentrated minefield (Korean DMZ) may not be as safe and healthy as a pristine environment but it seems to me that the absence of humans is causing animals and plants to "thrive" in these areas ("thrive" in the sense that the overall poulation increases).
    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Not... exactly, but in a way, yes. For a more elaborate explanation, read the manga version of Nausicaa. Or just read it because it rules, like the movie does. :)

  • by ascari (1400977) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:14PM (#33670638)
    ...they are nuclear plants? [ducks]
  • by pookemon (909195) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:21PM (#33670696) Homepage
    From TFA - "Scientists had to wear masks, goggles and gloves to work in the area"

    Meanwhile the remainder of their body was burnt to a crisp by the radioactivity. Masks, goggles and gloves? This experiment was presumably organised by someone from the Simpsons... (My eyes - the goggles do nothing!)
    • by Alwin Henseler (640539) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:43PM (#33670890) Homepage

      Probably the point is not so much to shield radiation, but to reduce / prevent direct contact, or (worse) ingestion of radioactive material. Depending on conditions & duration of the job, masks, goggles & gloves may just be adequate.

      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @10:32PM (#33671562) Homepage

        Probably the point is not so much to shield radiation, but to reduce / prevent direct contact, or (worse) ingestion of radioactive material. Depending on conditions & duration of the job, masks, goggles & gloves may just be adequate.

        Right. The key is to limit exposure to the precise amount where you don't die, but do gain superpowers.

        These scientists know what they're doing.

      • by Mashiki (184564)

        I'll remember that. It seems that 3M filter-lite paint masks, medical gloves, and welders glasses are okie!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Depends on the type and strength of radiation present. If it's mostly alpha particles then it will be blocked by your skin, but they can still penetrate mucous membranes (like in the nose and around the eyes) or be inhaled and absorbed through the lungs.

      There is also the inverse square law, standing several feet away from a lightly radioactive source is going to be less hazardous than handling it with your bare hands. Hence the gloves.

    • by jamesh (87723) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:41PM (#33671294)

      Radiation isn't the only problem. Uranium is toxic even without its radioactivity. I suspect that there are a bunch of other byproducts of a reactor explosion that are just as bad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Ah, the typical reaction to to the word "radioactivity."

      Most areas around Chernobyl are pretty harmlessly radioactive unless you a) spend a long time there or b) get some of the radioactive stuff on or in you and it sticks with you for an extended period of time.

      Cyanide is pretty deadly stuff too, but only if you ingest it.

      • by SimonInOz (579741)

        >> harmlessly radioactive unless you a) spend a long time there or b) get some of the radioactive stuff on or in you and it sticks with you for an extended period of time.

        You mean like, oh, I don't know, a plant, maybe?

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Yes. Although plants have quite a few advantages over us where it comes to tolerating radiation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tg123 (1409503)

        Ah, the typical reaction to to the word "radioactivity."

        For good reason too - we can not hear ,smell or taste radiation and its effects will last a life time.

        any exposure to radiation causes harm it is just a case of how well are bodies able to tolerate it.

        http://science.jrank.org/pages/5635/Radiation-Radiation-health.html [jrank.org]

        Most areas around Chernobyl are pretty harmlessly radioactive unless you a) spend a long time there or b) get some of the radioactive stuff on or in you and it sticks with you for an extended period of time...................

        I will have to take your word for it. Never having been to the areas that surround the Chernobyl power plant, I would however think there must be a reason why the cities of Chernobyl and Prypiat were abandoned.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tehcyder (746570)

        Most areas around Chernobyl are pretty harmlessly radioactive unless you a) spend a long time there or b) get some of the radioactive stuff on or in you and it sticks with you for an extended period of time.

        You have a strange definition of harmless.

        To me "it's OK if you were a protecive suit, mask and gloves, speed through without stopping and get hosed off at the other end" sounds more like a pretty good definition of a hazardous environment, but maybe I'm just a wuss.

  • ...the cockroach population is also thriving.

  • Great... (Score:4, Funny)

    by santax (1541065) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:26PM (#33670764)
    Now eat that plant... See what happens. Maybe you get 'immune' maybe you don't :P
  • Cool, but old news. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dcposch (1438157) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:31PM (#33670796)

    Yes, evolution is alive and well. A species of bacteria evolved in the early 70s that can digest nylon [wikipedia.org].

    I think this news is a nice reality check on that annoying but vocal cadre of environmentalists that are always predicting some kind of terrible apocalypse within the next couple of decades. Global cooling [wikipedia.org], for example. Not to mention a nifty "myth busted" moment for that old Hollywood trope of a post-nuclear wasteland.

    I'm definitely not saying we shouldn't take care of our environment, by the way, and I'm certainly not an AGW denialist. The specific way things are now matters a lot to us fickle and fragile humans. If the sea level rises by another yard, the crabs will just move. The Venetians are the ones that would be screwed.

    I'm just saying that nature is more resilient than people usually imagine.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Under the right circumstances, evolution can be quite fast. The geological history of the earth shows many massive die-offs followed by a tremendous flowering of new life forms. If there is an ecological niche available, something will adapt/evolve to fill it.

      Naturally, simpler life forms evolve faster than complex ones. Germs evolve in months. Humans evolve in tens of millennia. Plants are somewhere between the two.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Mashiki (184564)

        Better let the polar bears know, because it only took them 5-10k years to adapt. That's pretty quick in geologic time.

    • you might want to ask people from ukraine and belarus how fascinating it is to experience natural, that is, artificial selection in first person.

      And TFS speaks about surrounding soil: the explosion affected quite a large area. Strangely enough no alarm was raised until at least the day after the cloud came to our area (NE italy). Living few kilometers from the iron curtain in a (then) densely militarized zone one would have assumed that NBC monitoring was done in order to prevent attacks from the (then) bad

    • I think this news is a nice reality check on that annoying but vocal cadre of environmentalists that are always predicting some kind of terrible apocalypse within the next couple of decades. Global cooling, for example.

      Come on, did you even read the article you linked?

      [Global cooling] gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of press reports that did not accurately reflect the scientific understanding of ice age cycles

      Not to mention a nifty "myth busted" moment for that old Hollywood trope of

    • by MrNemesis (587188) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @12:24AM (#33672164) Homepage Journal

      Not to mention a nifty "myth busted" moment for that old Hollywood trope of a post-nuclear wasteland.

      The explosion at Chernobyl wasn't a nuclear one, it was steam (due to a massive reactor power spike thanks to the skillful removal of pretty much all possible safety procedures in an already sub-optimal reactor design) that blew open the core and scattered radioactive material over the landscape and into the atmosphere thanks to the lack of a containment vessel. The Hollywood trope of the post-nuclear landscape typically involves the detonation of several hundred megatons of nuclear bombs and, as near as we can tell, is pretty accurate; Chernobyl isn't really comparable to a nuke in either the degree of the explosion or in the amount of radioactive fallout. /nitpick

    • by Vintermann (400722) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:29AM (#33673198) Homepage

      My understanding was that the point of this article was that this was not evolution, or at most an evolutionary switch-on of a feature that evolved long ago.

      When plants reach for the light, it's not because they are evolving into a new organism on the spot. Rather, they have long ago evolved to dynamically adapt to lighting conditions. What TFA is proposing is that plants dynamically adapt to ionizing radiation as well, and they have had that capability for some time, it's just that we haven't been in a position to observe it.

      As to the rest of your comment: If you think "environmentalists are always predicting some kind of terrible apocalypse withing the next couple of decades" and cite "global cooling" as an example - maybe you're not an AGW denialist, but you have apparently picked up some of their rhetoric style.

  • I usually consider the BBC to be both a reliable source of info, and capable of quality reporting. I don't doubt the info in this case, but was the article written by monkeys? Or has the distinction between a paragraph and a sentence been deprecated?

    I was under the impression that the English are generally more literate than your average North American, seeing as they invented the language and all. But this article is awful.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mejogid (1575619)

      This is how the BBC reports online - single sentence 'paragraphs' under headings that are closer to where you'd really divide paragraphs. I'm not sure why you're so outraged, news reports in general use short paragraphs and fragments. The NY Times, for example, frequently uses single sentence paragraphs.

      It makes articles easier to skim and ensures a consistent style between journalists, I'm not sure what your issue with it is.

      • by yankpop (931224)

        It's not just the single sentence paragraphs, but also the near total lack of flow to the text. It reads like bullet points scraped off a powerpoint. I hadn't noticed how short the NYTimes paragraphs were, mostly because there's still some craft to the prose. The NYT still reads like it was meant to be read by literate humans, not parsed by a computer.

        To each his own, I guess.

    • by EEPROMS (889169)
      if you know anything about english history you would know that many of the words as spoken today were not invented but forced upon the people by invaders of the gray clouded isle.
  • by IonOtter (629215) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:47PM (#33670920) Homepage

    Scientist: Wow! They're thriving!

    Plant: (Yeah, that's right b*tch. You better believe it.)

    *weeks pass*

    Plant: (Eat me. Go on, you know you want to? Look at my lovely leaves, my beautiful drupes. I'm tasty. You KNOW I am. Eat me, human.)

    Scientist: Hmmmm...I wonder...

    Plant: (That's right, baby. Oh yesssss...verrry good.)

  • Mother nature (Score:2, Insightful)

    by p51d007 (656414)
    Amazing how mother nature always seems to adapt to whatever man throws at it. And people still continue to say we can blow up the world. Earth took hits from asteroids, wiped out the critters, adapted, evolved and moved on. Same thing with any pollution.
    • Re:Mother nature (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:13PM (#33671146)
      Key point : Pollution affects Humans too. If you are interested in there being human beings around in the future you need to either, A) Get us off planet to other colonies or B) preserve the "colony" we have. There may be some other creature that evolves with our capacity for abstraction and application of abstraction (i.e. engineering) on Earth. However if you believe that intelligence like ours is rare in the Universe and also believe it is worthwhile, then we need to handle Earth a little better or start funding Nasa with our cigarette and booze money. Budget Comparison to Consumer Expenditures [richardb.us] and SpaceReview [thespacereview.com].
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BradleyUffner (103496)

      Amazing how mother nature always seems to adapt to whatever man throws at it.
      And people still continue to say we can blow up the world. Earth took hits from
      asteroids, wiped out the critters, adapted, evolved and moved on. Same thing with
      any pollution.

      More like Nature adapting to Nature.
      Why are humans always separated out from natural things? Humans are animals just like ants and bees. Bees create honey, something that would not exist without bees creating it, and it's considered natural. Yet humans create things like "High Fructose Corn Syrup" and it's not considered natural.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dido (9125)

      It was never a question of nature or the earth managing in spite of what we do. Nothing we can do, except possibly detonating every nuclear weapon in the world's arsenal (and maybe not even then) will be sufficient to completely wipe out all life on the planet. The real question is whether or not whatever we do or fail to do will make the planet uninhabitable for us humans. Nature may be resilient, but the human species, having existed for only 100,000 or so years in its present form, a mere blink of an ey

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by master_p (608214)

      The problem is not life in general after we blow up the world. The problem is human life after we blow up the world. Life in general will go on on this planet for ever, until the planet is consumed by the Sun. The problem is us.

  • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:02PM (#33671060)
    Troll Alert : It boggles my mind why people still don't accept evolution as being a close approximation of the truth. I say "close approximation" because even physics is an abstract collection of ideas meant to help our human minds approximate physical laws of our Universe. As a species have had numerous examples of evidence be observed or deduced which support evolution. There is observed evidence, as in this case of plants near Chernobyl as well as others like the peppered moth, and qualitative evidence paired with analysis such as in the case of the varied forms of archaeology. These plants represent a micro-evolutionary step, as some people refer to it. Macroevolution(tau) = Microevolution(100000*t) . Differentiation within a species given enough time diverges the species into parts. Simply put, give it enough time and micro-evolution becomes macro-evolution. If you have some math background you will also deduce my other point; no matter what you call it its evolution.
    • You are mistaken (Score:5, Informative)

      by pikine (771084) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:34PM (#33671250) Journal

      Read their method.

      They first observe that plants start to spontaneously grow again in contamination sites despite the high radioactivity. Then they brought in seeds from uncontaminated origin. One batch goes to the contamination site, and another batch (the controlled group) goes to a decontaminated area near the site. Seeds grow fine in both batches, showing that seeds from uncontaminated origin is able to survive the radioactivity in the very first generation. The study is about the mechanism how plants naturally resist radioactivity. No evolution is taking place here.

  • by SoupIsGood Food (1179) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:36PM (#33671262)

    Coupl'a things -

    1) Chernobyl is not over, and not contained. The "sarcophagus" was temporary at best, is crumbling now, and it's permanent replacement has been beset by budgetary, engineering and political issues that seem irresolvable.

    2) Apart from 6' trout and 10' catfish, wildlife around Chernobyl and Pripyat is absolutely not doing well. Excepting a few migratory songbirds, the place is eerily silent.

    3) But it's OK, because a few plant species turn out to be radiation-tolerant?

    No, not OK. I'm not against nuclear power wholesale, but maybe we should be taking a long, hard look at pebble-bed, 4S and thorium reactors?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I hate to tell you but 10' catfish aren't that uncommon. Go check the noodling sites sometime and you'll find plenty that are over 8 foot long in populated areas where rednecks eat catfish and a fair number of well documented 10 footers too. Put those same catfish in areas where the rednecks would be afraid to eat them or even use the waterways for transport and guess what you'd find? These things would thrive in the right conditions. Even 6 foot trout are known outside of radioactively contaminated areas.
    • by Caption Wierd (1164059) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:02AM (#33674272)
      Oh please. I am a radiation expert in real life. I have been to Chernobyl. It is no more "eerily silent" there than it is in the non-contaminated areas. The surrounding area is mostly farmland and was cleared many years ago. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that the plants and animals are just not as sensitive to radiation as the movies and sci fi shows suggest. That plus the fact that most of the isotopes released (iodine-131 for example) have long decayed away. Humans are more sensitive to the effects of radiation than most other creatures. When we protect humans we end up protecting the environment. That said, even though I full expect the plants to grow healthy in the downwind zone, I would not eat them for fear of further concentrating any remaining contamination they contain and raising my risk of cancer. But I don't smoke, either, for similar reasons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Toze (1668155)

      All nature sounds eerily silent to people accustomed to the noise of city living. There is no hum of engines or transformers, no sirens, no screeching tires, no TV or radio. It is shocking like plunging into cold water when you step out of your car and into an environment where noise is the exception rather than the rule. At first, it sounds dead. As you begin to grow accustomed to it, however, you start hearing wind in the trees or grass, birds, etc. It sounds "desolate" because the sounds are different in

  • No predator(s)? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by An anonymous Frank (559486) <frank@harrystot[ ]com ['le.' in gap]> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @10:03PM (#33671410) Homepage

    Could it be that whatever fauna that survived, adapted and/or now thrives might do so under conditions perhaps harsher due to radiation, yet plausibly improved by a potentially reduced presence of any predator species, whom may not have fared as well, or may have been displaced?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Could it be that whatever fauna that survived, adapted and/or now thrives might do so under conditions perhaps harsher due to radiation, yet plausibly improved by a potentially reduced presence of any predator species, whom may not have fared as well, or may have been displaced?

      The deer got superpowers, but the bears glow in the dark

  • by Provocateur (133110) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @10:46PM (#33671642) Homepage

    They were all active that day, talking about the weather, gossiping, and walking around. And right before the scientists and researchers drove in to the site, one of the plants yelled "CAR!" and they all stood still.

  • Try mask, sunnies, and a glove.
  • What (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Alex Belits (437) * on Thursday September 23, 2010 @06:12AM (#33673390) Homepage

    Plants are very primitive compared to animals, and localized mutations of their cells have nearly no effect on them, so why would they be significantly affected by radioactive contamination in the first place? The whole problem with radioactive contamination and plants is that they can accumulate radioactive isotopes over their lifetime and become dangerous for humans and animals to consume.

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