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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mutations From Fukushima A Cause For Concern?

There have been recent reports from Japan about mutations in the animal world in and around the Fukushima nuclear reactor that spewed radioactive elements into the water, air and ground.

Things like a few butterflies with mutated body parts and fish carrying excessive amounts of radiation.

Before I start on those stories, rightly or wrongly, let me just point out that who we are as a species (unless you are a Creationist, of course - you may want to skip this story), is because we are mutants. Every single living thing on this planet has mutated from something else.

Having said that, it's usually because nature has dictated a shift in the way the order or status quo needed to be.

Having said that, usually a mutation in a species is weak and dies off quickly... but sometimes, as is evidenced by every person looking at this blog, a mutation is an advantage.

This past summer, researchers in Japan say they have discovered evidence to suggest radiation from the Dai-ichi power plant in Fukushima is directly responsible for mutated variations in butterflies, featuring: stunted wings, badly developed eyes, disfigured antennae, and variations in color patterns.

You can see in the image above, a healthy adult pale blue butterfly (top) and a mutated one with small wings (below)

Otaki Joji (surname first), the lead researcher from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa was involved in collecting 144 adult pale blue butterflies from 10 locations throughout Japan - including Fukushima.

While expecting the insects to have been spared any mutation owing to their overall resistance to radiation, the team of researchers was surprised to discover that 12% of the 144 collected samples had mutations, with areas having higher levels of radiation having butterflies with more mutant features.

Published in the Scientific Reports, the researchers note: "We conclude that artificial radionuclides from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant caused physiological and genetic damage to this species."

Not content with a single generation of mutations, the researchers have observed the mutations continuing in subsequent generations.

Otaki's team breed the mutated pale blue butterflies in their laboratories and found even more mutations that were not present in the previous generation. 

In fact, six months after collecting their initial samples, Otaki and company say that the butterflies from the Fukushima area are continuing to mutate twice as fast as those found just two months after the accident. This means the butterfly mutations are increasing with the next generations...

The believe that the higher rate of mutations in the Fukushima butterfly samples is due to the insect's larvae eating contaminated leaves... causing the mutations... and then passing down the mutations to subsequent generations.

Otaki and the researchers ponder that if resilient creatures such as insects are being affected by radiation, then surely other species or possibly animals are as well. "It's pretty clear something has gone wrong with the ecosystem."

That's a pretty bold step. I'm not saying that TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power COmpany own the Dai-ichi power plant) are to be congratulated for jump-starting the next stage of evolution. Far from it.

But... have the butterfly mutations harmed the butterfly? Does it have a shorter lifespan? We are only talking 12% of the initial butterflies collected... but did all of them produced subsequent generations of mutated butterflies? Are we looking at Mothra 2.0?

Are birds getting sick after eating these mutated butterflies? Is ingesting mutated butterfly 'meat' causing mutations within the animals that eat them? Is the pale blue butterfly species in danger of being wiped out? Disfigured eyes? Okay... but has it developed sonar?

I know I'm getting stupid there... but has something clearly gone wrong with the ecosystem as Otaki stated?

Look... I am sure that radiation is bad in nature... except that nature is bombarded by radiation all the time. Excessive amounts in the past have caused evolution (except in Pokemon which apparently have to battle to gain the next step)... I see that Otaki and crew have found many BAD mutations... have they found any GOOD ones?

We use radiation to cure ourselves (nuclear medicine). We bathe in it daily (solar)? We cook our food with it (microwaves). Hell... in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, not everyone died despite being bathed in excessive amounts of radiation. I personally know of a man who walked into Nagasaki a few days after the bomb had exploded to look after those needing help... and there he was nearly 50 years later hale and healthy.

I know that bombs dropped on those two cities clearly upset the ecosystem... and yet... you can go there now and feel safe and secure.

Of course... I also knew a few British sailors who were spectators on ships watching nuclear bombs go off in the 1950s... they all died of cancer... though it took nearly 30 years to kill them. Was it the radiation? Was it just crap luck and genetics?

What I'm trying to say is that while we can all agree that the Dai-ichi radioactive spewing was bad... is it a complete screw up of the ecosystem? Or, will Mother Nature endure somehow?

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

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