Scientists say stray dogs around Chornobyl show amazing genetic diversity

7 March, 03:05 PM
In Pripyat, as well as in other parts of the exclusion zone, there are many stray dogs (Photo:Reuters)

In Pripyat, as well as in other parts of the exclusion zone, there are many stray dogs (Photo:Reuters)

Stray dogs living in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine may have been observed undergoing evolution, Ukrainian scientists say.

The scientists have found that not only the habits, but also the genetic structure of the stray dogs in the exclusion zone have changed. The animals have been monitored since 2017 as part of the Chornobyl Dog Research Initiative.

The area around the nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine, part of which was destroyed during the 1986 disaster, has been abandoned by people. But not by animals — the fauna remained in the exclusion zone, represented by wild species, livestock, and pets left behind by their owners who fled the disaster.

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Today, only a few volunteer and research organizations pay attention to them. However, one of them, established by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), has been monitoring dogs as part of the Chornobyl Dog Research Initiative since 2017.

Scientists found that the animals radically changed their usual behavioral pattern. They gathered in much more cohesive packs than before.

After analyzing DNA samples from 302 animals living in different parts of the exclusion zone, scientists identified two large populations. Their genetic profiles have not yet been analyzed in detail, but the scientists immediately noticed a huge number of haplotypes (a set of DNA variants along a single chromosome that tend to be inherited together) in these groups.

They compared the results with samples of stray dogs in Vinnytsia Oblast in central Ukraine and found that the latter had a much more uniform set of genes.

This is surprising, since both the Chornobyl and Vinnytsia dogs lived in free-range conditions, and thus reproduced freely.

The large number of haplotypes piqued the interest of researchers. This indicator points to genetic diversity, which has a positive effect on both the stability of the population and the health of each individual.

So far, scientists have no explanation for the findings. In the future, when detailed studies of the Chornobyl dogs' genes are conducted, they hope to get an answer to this question, but they currently believe that the population has acquired such diversity in the course of evolution, adapting to the difficult conditions in the zone’s environment.

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