Monday Aug 13, 201205:28 PM GMT
Fukushima butterflies affected by radiation
The Japanese team collected 144 adult Zizeeria maha butterflies from 10 locations two months after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011.
The Japanese team collected 144 adult Zizeeria maha butterflies from 10 locations two months after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011.
Mon Aug 13, 2012 5:27PM
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These observations of mutations and morphological abnormalities can only be explained as having resulted from exposure to radioactive contaminants."

Tim Mousseau, University of South Carolina

Radioactive exposure might have caused mutations in butterflies found in Fukushima, where nuclear meltdowns happened after Japan’s 2011 tsunami and earthquake.


According to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, Japanese researchers observed an increase in leg, antennae and wing shape mutations among butterflies collected after the Fukushima accident.

The team confirmed the link between the mutations and the radioactive material by laboratory experiments.

"It has been believed that insects are very resistant to radiation," lead researcher Joji Otaki of the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, told the state-funded BBC.

"In that sense, our results were unexpected," he added.

The Japanese team collected 144 adult pale grass blue (Zizeeria maha) butterflies from 10 locations in Japan two months after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011.

The adult butterflies would have been overwintering as larvae at the time of the accident.

By comparing mutations found on the butterflies collected from the different sites, scientists found that areas with greater amounts of environment radiation were home to butterflies with much smaller wings and irregularly developed eyes.

The team then bred the butterflies in labs 1,090 miles away from the accident, where artificial radiation could hardly be detected.

They again collected adult butterflies from the 10 sites six months later, and found that those from the Fukushima area had a mutation rate more than double that of those found sooner after the accident.

Last year’s quake and tsunami, Japan's worst crisis since World War II, demolished homes and ruined towns along the country's north-eastern coast, leaving thousands dead or missing.

Waves from the tsunami shut down back-up generators at the Fukushima Daiichi, disabling reactor cooling systems and leading to meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks.

"This study is important and overwhelming in its implications for both the human and biological communities living in Fukushima," said University of South Carolina biologist Tim Mousseau.

"These observations of mutations and morphological abnormalities can only be explained as having resulted from exposure to radioactive contaminants."

The new study shows that the high rate of mutation was caused by eating contaminated food, and the result of mutations of the parents' genetic material that was passed on to the next generation.

Findings can help scientists investigate the long-term impacts of radioactive contaminants in the environment.

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