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Unnatural Laboratories
Microbes reproduce at a very rapid pace. If unrestricted, a single bacterium could spawn a population numbering in the trillions in a single day. Because of the short time between generations, mutations are much more common in microbes than humans and other multi-celled life forms.

Radioactivity can increase the rate of mutation, directly changing the genetic code inside living cells. Therefore, radioactive environments are unusual laboratories where new mutations are more common, and may be good locations to look for new and helpful strains of microbes.

Chernobyl was the worst nuclear plant disaster in Russia and the world. It contaminated the region around it and forced the evacuation of nearby towns. The area is still abandoned and will remain so for many more years. However, life still exists there. Anything that couldn't escape, such as the trees and microbes, either coped with the radioactivity or perished.

Researchers Hunter-Cevera and Yuri Gleba are examining how the microbes have fared in their new stressful environment. The effect on microbes isn't easy to observe, so samples need to be collected at the site and taken back to the lab for examination. Scientists are still studying the samples to determine if they can be used to fight disease. But something beneficial may eventually be derived from this terrible disaster.

(home) Enlisting New Fighters | Engineering Our Crops (to Puzzle)



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