Journal Article

Adaptation and Impairment of DNA Repair Function in Pollen of <i>Betula verrucosa</i> and Seeds of <i>Oenothera biennis</i> from Differently Radionuclide-contaminated Sites of Chernobyl

I. I. Boubriak, D. M. Grodzinsky, V. P. Polischuk, V. D. Naumenko, N. P. Gushcha, A. N. Micheev, S. J. McCready and D. J. Osborne

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 101, issue 2, pages 267-276
Published in print January 2008 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online November 2007 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Adaptation and Impairment of DNA Repair Function in Pollen of Betula verrucosa and Seeds of Oenothera biennis from Differently Radionuclide-contaminated Sites of Chernobyl

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

The plants that have remained in the contaminated areas around Chernobyl since 1986 encapsulate the effects of radiation. Such plants are chronically exposed to radionuclides that they have accumulated internally as well as to α-, β- and γ-emitting radionuclides from external sources and from the soil. This radiation leads to genetic damage that can be countered by DNA repair systems. The objective of this study is to follow DNA repair and adaptation in haploid cells (birch pollen) and diploid cells (seed embryos of the evening primrose) from plants that have been growing in situ in different radionuclide fall-out sites in monitored regions surrounding the Chernobyl explosion of 1986.


Radionuclide levels in soil were detected using gamma-spectroscopy and radiochemistry. DNA repair assays included measurement of unscheduled DNA synthesis, electrophoretic determination of single-strand DNA breaks and image analysis of rDNA repeats after repair intervals. Nucleosome levels were established using an ELISA kit.

Key Results

Birch pollen collected in 1987 failed to perform unscheduled DNA synthesis, but pollen at γ/β-emitter sites has now recovered this ability. At a site with high levels of combined α- and γ/β-emitters, pollen still exhibits hidden damage, as shown by reduced unscheduled DNA synthesis and failure to repair lesions in rDNA repeats properly. Evening primrose seed embryos generated on plants at the same γ/β-emitter sites now show an improved DNA repair capacity and ability to germinate under abiotic stresses (salinity and accelerated ageing). Again those from combined α- and γ/β-contaminated site do not show this improvement.


Chronic irradiation at γ/β-emitter sites has provided opportunities for plant cells (both pollen and embryo cells) to adapt to ionizing irradiation and other environmental stresses. This may be explained by facilitation of DNA repair function.

Keywords: DNA repair; adaptation; pollen; seed; Chernobyl; radionuclides; Betula verrucosa; Oenothera biennis

Journal Article.  6848 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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