Colourful birds get more radiation damage

Nuclear accidents can have devastating consequences for the people and animals living in the vicinity of the damaged power plants, but they also give researchers a unique opportunity to study the effects of radiation on populations that would be impossible to recreate in the lab.

By studying Chernobyl, researchers found that bird species with orange feathers living in the fallout zone seem to be more susceptible to radiation than their drabber gray and black fellows.

It seems that production of the more colourful pigments consumes antioxidant molecules that would otherwise confer protection against radiation damage, and that this molecular trade-off is shaping bird populations around the former nuclear power plant.

Antioxidants reduce the number of free radicals (which cause deterioration of cells and tissues). Thus having black feathers and more antioxidants can also protect tissues from radiation damage by mopping up free radicals. Learn more here.

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