Scientists out of the National Human Genome Research Institute and the University of South Carolina have begun studying the effects of radiation on hundreds of feral dogs and how it could have altered their genomes in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), the area in Northern Ukraine affected by the explosion of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor in 1986, when the region was part of the former Soviet Union.
The scientists published their results in Science Advances in March, which found that the dogs in the area were "genetically distinct from other free-breeding and purebred dog populations," and that the effect of nearly 40 years of radiation could have sped up evolution in the canines.
A dog genomics expert at the National Human Genome Research Institute and co-author of the study, Elaine Ostrander, said to the New York Times, "Do they have mutations that they’ve acquired that allow them to live and breed successfully in this region?"
"What challenges do they face and how have they coped genetically?" Ostrander added.
The explosion of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor sent massive amounts of radiation into the surrounding territory which caused the CEZ area, which is roughly the size of Yosemite National Park, to become uninhabitable by humans.
Scientists are unclear how many of the dogs that were currently the subject of the study were descendents of pets that were left behind during the incident and how many were wild animals that migrated to the region.
According to Popular Mechanics, the scientists studied a total of 302 feral dogs' DNA.
Bacteria, rodents, birds, and other small animals from the CEZ have all been previous subjects of studies. One 2016 study of Eastern tree frogs found that the amphibian creature's typically green pigmentation had turned back in the area, and the scientists' theory was that the change came from a mutation that ionized radiation.
Popular Mechanics reports that "this study is only a first step in proving that hypothesis," that the radiation has caused "rapid mutation or evolution due to radiation exposure."