Wolves leaving radioactive area around Chernobyl raise mutant fears
Researchers study wolves in the area contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and what happens when they leave.
Scientists followed a mutant wolf out of the Chernobyl contaminated “exclusion zone” into the regular world just to see what would happen. No, that’s not the plot of the latest horror film but a study that recently came out.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place in 1986 near the town of Chernobyl in what was then the Soviet Union (now Ukraine). An exploded reactor ended up releasing 400 times more radioactive fallout than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima (according to the IAEA). It was to this date the worst nuclear accident mankind has ever seen, resulting in the quarantining of an area 30 miles in diameter around the reactor. This has now grown to be about a 1,000 sq miles.
While there are no humans in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (or CEZ), the area has seen an expansion of wildlife, essentially acting as a preserve. And now some of that wildlife is leaving the area and traveling to other places. That’s what the scientists who outfitted a wolf with a tracker observed for the first time. Not only is some wildlife leaving, it might have mutated genes. Scientists are hoping to understand what would happen if these genes mixed in the pool with non-contaminated animals. Besides, creating radioactive zombie wolves, of course.
In an interview with Live Science, researcher Michael Byrne from the University of Missouri at Columbia explained why wildlife migration is significant to study:
"Instead of being an ecological black hole, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone might actually act as a source of wildlife to help other populations in the region," said Byrne. "And these findings might not just apply to wolves – it's reasonable to assume similar things are happening with other animals as well."
The data on the young wolf tracked with a GPS collar is actually from 2015, but the study analyzing the data is new. The original gray wolf traveled across Ukraine from the CEZ, venturing at least 229 miles (369 km) from the Zone. It is no longer being tracked, with researchers getting the last signal from its GPS a few months ago.
Check out this PBS-screened doc on the 'Radioactive wolves of Chernobyl":
It’s also reasonable to assume that much more traveling has taken place by the Chernobyl animals in the years since, although the roaming wolf was the only one of 14 that were tracked which left the CEZ.
What is the effect of having the wolf and other animals from Chernobyl mixing with animals from non-contaminated areas remains to be seen. Scientists have shown that species in the Exclusion Zone have mutation rates increases of up to 20 times.
This doesn’t necessarily mean some strange hybrid beasts are roaming that area. "No wolves there were glowing — they all have four legs, two eyes and one tail," Byrne confirmed.
A woman holds a disabled newly-born pig -- a victim of the radioactivity fall-out of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. Photo was taken on October 2nd, 1989(Photo credit: LARS GRANSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Mutations are not usually very dramatic in character and tend to keep happening even without exposure to radiation. In an interview with Mashable, Bridgett vonHoldt, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University and a specialist in wolf genetics, explained:
"Not all mutations are bad," said vonHoldt. "Mutations are the bread and butter of diversity, and can enhance proteins, or gene expression patterns, etc.” But “they can also be harmful."
We just don’t know what could happen. Who is willing to roll that particular dice other than curious scientists?
Wolves in an abandoned village in Chernobyl area. Credit: Byshnev/iStock/Getty Images
What is especially interesting is that gray wolves have increased in population within the Zone much faster than other species. The Zone is 7 times more dense in the wolf population than the nature reserves outside it.
You can read the study published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.
Why self-control makes your life better, and how to get more of it.
(Photo by Geem Drake/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
- Research demonstrates that people with higher levels of self-control are happier over both the short and long run.
- Higher levels of self-control are correlated with educational, occupational, and social success.
- It was found that the people with the greatest levels of self-control avoid temptation rather than resist it at every turn.
Ready your Schrödinger's Cat Jokes.
- For a time, quantum computing was more theory than fact.
- That's starting to change.
- New quantum computer designs look like they might be scalable.
Quantum computing has existed in theory since the 1980's. It's slowly making its way into fact, the latest of which can be seen in a paper published in Nature called, "Deterministic teleportation of a quantum gate between two logical qubits."
To ensure that we're all familiar with a few basic terms: in electronics, a 'logic gate' is something that takes in one or more than one binary inputs and produces a single binary output. To put it in reductive terms: if you produce information that goes into a chip in your computer as a '0,' the logic gate is what sends it out the other side as a '1.'
A quantum gate means that the '1' in question here can — roughly speaking — go back through the gate and become a '0' once again. But that's not quite the whole of it.
A qubit is a single unit of quantum information. To continue with our simple analogy: you don't have to think about computers producing a string of information that is either a zero or a one. A quantum computer can do both, simultaneously. But that can only happen if you build a functional quantum gate.
That's why the results of the study from the folks at The Yale Quantum Institute saying that they were able to create a quantum gate with a "process fidelity" of 79% is so striking. It could very well spell the beginning of the pathway towards realistic quantum computing.
The team went about doing this through using a superconducting microwave cavity to create a data qubit — that is, they used a device that operates a bit like a organ pipe or a music box but for microwave frequencies. They paired that data qubit with a transmon — that is, a superconducting qubit that isn't as sensitive to quantum noise as it otherwise could be, which is a good thing, because noise can destroy information stored in a quantum state. The two are then connected through a process called a 'quantum bus.'
That process translates into a quantum property being able to be sent from one location to the other without any interaction between the two through something called a teleported CNOT gate, which is the 'official' name for a quantum gate. Single qubits made the leap from one side of the gate to the other with a high degree of accuracy.
Above: encoded qubits and 'CNOT Truth table,' i.e., the read-out.
The team then entangled these bits of information as a way of further proving that they were literally transporting the qubit from one place to somewhere else. They then analyzed the space between the quantum points to determine that something that doesn't follow the classical definition of physics occurred.
They conclude by noting that "... the teleported gate … uses relatively modest elements, all of which are part of the standard toolbox for quantum computation in general. Therefore ... progress to improve any of the elements will directly increase gate performance."
In other words: they did something simple and did it well. And that the only forward here is up. And down. At the same time.
These modern-day hermits can sometimes spend decades without ever leaving their apartments.
- A hikikomori is a type of person in Japan who locks themselves away in their bedrooms, sometimes for years.
- This is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, likely due to rigid social customs and high expectations for academic and business success.
- Many believe hikikomori to be a result of how Japan interprets and handles mental health issues.
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