Radiation Genetics

Radiation Genetics


a science related to both genetics and radiobiology that studies the genetic effects of radiation, that is, the hereditary changes (mutations) that develop in organisms as a result of irradiation.

In 1925 the Soviet scientists G. A. Nadson and G. S. Filippov produced the first radiation-induced mutations in phycomy-cetes. Radiation genetics emerged as an independent discipline in 1927–28 with the experiments of the American geneticists H. Muller, who experimented on drosophila in 1927, and L. Stadler, who experimented on corn and barley in 1928. By precise quantitative experiments, they established that X-radia-tion substantially increases (by an order of magnitude) the frequency of mutations in test organisms. Researchers in various countries subsequently demonstrated that X rays and all other kinds of ionizing radiation, as well as ultraviolet rays, are absorbed by chromosomes and can cause mutations in all species—microorganisms, plants, animals, and man—both in the sexual cells, or gametes (gametic mutations), and in somatic cells (somatic mutations). Irradiation can induce all the known types of mutations—point (gene), chromosomal, genomic, and cytoplasmic—which affect any of the organism’s characteristics, including biochemical, physiological, and morphological; it can also induce mutations that affect the viability of an individual and can cause the individual to die (lethal mutations).

Three basic trends have developed in radiation genetics almost from its inception; these trends include research in biophysics, or radiobiology (the analysis of the mechanisms of radiational genetic action), genetics (the induction of mutant forms for the analysis of the phenomena of heredity and variation), and selection (the induction of mutants that have valuable characteristics for breeding purposes). The first studies on radiation selection were conducted on wheat in 1930 by the Soviet scientists A. A. Sapegin and L. N. Delone. Great advances were later made in the radiation selection of many industrial microorganisms and cultivated plants. The growth of the nuclear industry has increased the importance of radiation genetics as the theoretical basis for predicting the long-term genetic effects of increased background radiation in man’s environment. Another trend that has developed is space radiation genetics, which studies the patterns of the genetic effects of cosmic rays in relation to other spaceflight factors, including weightlessness and excessive gravitational force.

In the USSR, research in radiation genetics is conducted by the Institute of General Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Department of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, the Institute of Medical Radiology of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR, the I. V. Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, and the Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR and by many universities in their biophysics and genetics subdepartments. Outside the USSR, research is conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (USA), the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (Harwell, Great Britain), and the Central Institute for Genetics and the Study of Cultivated Plants (Gatersleben, German Democratic Republic).


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