APR 25, 2016 10:26 AM PDT

How Does Radiation Damage DNA?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

The aftermath of a nuclear disaster is beyond frightening. A Google search the Chernobyl disaster or the Fukushima disaster brings up horrific images of mutated plants and animals. While some of the photos may have been doctored, the effects of nuclear radiation are unequivocally real and dangerous.

We are exposed to radiation from natural sources every day, all the time. These contribute to a "background" radiation dose of about 3 millisieverts (mSv) per year (mSv is a measure of the body's absorption of radiation). A dental X-ray has a low radiation dose of 0.005 mSv, whereas a chest X-ray has about 7 mSv. In contrast, the mean dose of radiation exposure in the thyroids of Chernobyl evacuees was 490 mSv.

This is so scary because ionizing radiation can damage the DNA, and more radiation means more mutations. Our cells are pretty good at fixing mistakes, but not when they're overwhelmed by the frequency of the mistakes. When this happen, cells lose their ability to regulate division and growth, which manifests into the strange mutations that are often observed in areas of high radiation. In addition, radiation also significantly increases cancer incidences, which may not be apparent until years after the exposure.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 31, 2018
Videos
OCT 31, 2018
Why Venus Could Doom 'Habitable' Exoplanets
Venus’s fate may have come down from its distance from the sun. The exact distances of the Venus zone are based on how much radiation is being emitte...
NOV 11, 2018
Videos
NOV 11, 2018
Is Our Everyday Electronic Devices Making Us Sick?
1-5% of people believe their electronic devices are making them experiences symptoms associated with such as nausea, dizziness, and headaches. These indivi...
NOV 14, 2018
Videos
NOV 14, 2018
Visualizing Embryonic Development in Zebrafish
Zebrafish share genetic features with many other organisms, and they undergo a rapid developmental process in which they can remain transparent....
NOV 15, 2018
Videos
NOV 15, 2018
Viewing the Interactions Between Cellular Structures
Scientists have used powerful microscopy techniques to learn more about how the dynamics of a live cell....
NOV 28, 2018
Plants & Animals
NOV 28, 2018
Some Animals Thrive in Wildfires
We often associate wildfires with destruction and devastation, but horrendous damages aside, what happens to all the animals that inhabit those forests? As...
DEC 05, 2018
Videos
DEC 05, 2018
Promising Results From Early Trials of Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Anemia
More than 90,000 Americans and millions of people around the world have SCA....
Loading Comments...