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A nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine in 1986, leading to the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from the city as the explosion released cancer-causing radiation.
The area has remained eerily deserted ever since, with a 1,000-square-mile buffer zone created to prevent people from entering where radiation still poses a cancer risk.
Humans have not returned to that space, but wildlife has returned as wolves roam the city's barren lands.
Kara Love, a biologist at Princeton University in the US, has been studying how Chernobyl wolves survive despite multiple generations of exposure to radioactive particles.
Love and a team of researchers visited the restricted area in 2014 and placed radio collars on the wolves so their movements could be monitored.
The collars give the team “real-time measurements of where the wolves are and how much radiation they are exposed to,” she said.
They also took blood samples to understand how wolves' bodies respond to cancer-causing radiation.
The researchers discovered that Chernobyl wolves are exposed to up to 11.28 millirem of radiation per day, which is more than 6 times the legal safety limit for humans.
Love found that wolves had altered immune systems similar to cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy, but more importantly, she also identified specific parts of the animals' genetic information that appeared resilient in the face of increased cancer risk.
Love seeks to identify protective mutations that increase the odds of surviving cancer.
Love presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle, Washington, last month.