Academy of Finland
Funding decision
Name Watts, Phillip
Organisation OY
Project title
Telomeres in wildlife – coping with environmental stress
Decision No. 287153
Decision date 11.05.2015
Funding period 01.09.2015 - 31.08.2019
Funding 491 331
WebFOCUS Report
Project description
To measure the biological consequences of exposure to radioactive contamination in the environment, we analysed the genomes of a small rodent, the bank vole Myodes glareolus, inhabiting the area surrounding the accident site of the former nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine. Animals exposed to radioactive material show many signs of cell stress, such as short telomeres (ends of chromosomes) and damaged mitochondria (that provide energy), which are signs of faster 'molecular aging'. We did not find strong evidence of an increase in expression of genes that repair DNA or an increase in mutation. Rather, bank voles exposed to radioactive material have an altered metabolism as they apparently utilise fats rather than sugar to generate energy. Also associated with living in contaminated areas is a change in the community of gut bacteria. Hence, exposure to environmental radiation has many biological impacts beyond well-publicised outcomes of DNA damage and mutation.