Gateway for:

Member Countries

Genetic Effects of Nuclear Test Site


Genetic Effects on Natural Plant and Animal Populations Exposed to Radioactive Contamination at Semipalatinsk Test Site (Kazakhstan)

Tech Area / Field

  • BIO-RAD/Radiobiology/Biotechnology
  • BIO-CGM/Cytology, Genetics and Molecular Biology/Biotechnology

8 Project completed

Registration date

Completion date

Senior Project Manager
Genisaretskaya S V

Leading Institute
National Nuclear Center of the Republic of Kazakstan / Institute of Radiation Safety and Ecology, Kazakstan, Kurchatov

Supporting institutes

  • Institute of Botany and Phytointroductoion, Kazakstan, Almaty


  • Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Germany, Jülich

Project summary

The objective of the Project is to study cytogenetic and molecular-genetic effects of chronic ionizing radiation in different indicator species of plants, insects, amphibians and small rodents, and to assess and forecast the genetic effects of radiation impact on natural associations.

The Project objective will be achieved by implementing the following tasks:

· Describe the present status of biocenosis, determine plant and animal biopersity and select indicator species for genetic studies.
· Assess the radiation situation in the natural habitat of selected organisms and determine natural and artificial radionuclide (40K, 232Th, 238U,137Cs, 90Sr, 239Pu, etc.) and heavy metal (Zn, Cu, Mn, Fe, Pb, Ni, etc.) concentrations in different compartments of “soil-plant-animal” biological chains.
· Study the cytogenetic, genetic and molecular-genetic effects of chronic ionizing radiation on different model species of plants and animals.
· Identify and analyze possible adaptive responses of inpiduals and populations to chronic exposure to ionizing radiation, determine the mechanisms and extent of adaptation in different plant and animal inpiduals and populations according to their radiosensitivity, reproduction type, ploidity and other biological properties.
· Study the relationship between various genetic alterations in exposed populations and possible ecological shifts, as revealing such shifts is a basic issue of the ecological regulation of environmental contamination by radioactive products.
· Develop basic principles for organization and operation of long-term comprehensive genetic monitoring over the STS territory.

The strategy of studying the ecological effects of ionizing radiation includes as one of its major elements the analysis of genetic processes in natural populations and ecosystems. A review of literature shows that the assessment of genetic effects of environmental radioactive contamination on man, fauna and flora is a very complicated problem. Many aspects have to be considered, including molecular mechanisms of genetic damage, radiation mutagenesis and reparation on cellular and organism levels, manifestation of mutational alterations, accumulation of induced mutations and their elimination by populations of different species. Consequently, the assessment and prediction of the genetic effects of ionizing radiation in natural ecosystems is only possible if the required information is available on the impact of radiation at molecular, cellular, organism, population and biocenosis levels.

So far, the radioecological situation over the entire STS territory is far from being completely depicted. Some STS areas were exposed to severe radioactive contamination and high radiation doses able to cause serious genetic effects. However, the issue of the genetic effects of chronic ionizing radiation for natural populations inhabiting the STS is in fact still open.

At the same time, the world scientific community has nothing similar to the Semipalatinsk Test Site. This territory provides a natural radiobiological laboratory and opportunities to monitor radiobiological and radioecological processes. Systematic observations of radionuclide transport and biological impact on biological objects would allow scientists to determine the effects of chronic radiation exposure at different organizational levels of life – from molecules to populations. Long-term monitoring is a determinative factor for revealing the regularities of nature self-cleaning and self-recovery, for studying mechanisms of living organism adaptation and determining radioresistance of species and the ecosystem as a whole.

The Project has well-defined test-objects, criteria and research methodology. The following results are expected: The present status of STS vegetation and animal species persity will be assessed; vascular plants will be listed and an inventory of STS vertebrate species will be established. For the first time the radioecological situation in places of natural populations inhabiting the STS will be assessed, taking into account radiation exposure doses, radionuclide content and the distribution in the environment and dose burden of biological objects. For the first time a scientifically-grounded assessment of nuclear test genetic effects in natural populations of the STS will be given, based on experimental data obtained for a series of biological indicators (Stipa Sareptana Beck, Stipa cappilata, Hordeum Bpgdan W., Agropuron eristatum, Iris halopila, Allactaga major Kerr, Citellus erythrogenus Br., Apademus agrarius Pall, Eremias argata Pall, Chironomiae etc.); dose-dependence of genetic effects in various animal species will be studied under different exposure conditions particularly under low dose exposure. Possible ways for the population to adapt to chronic ionizing radiation will be analyzed. The major principles of organization and operation of genetic monitoring on the territory of the test site will be elaborated; recommendations on use of contaminated biogeocenosis for scientific purposes will be developed.

Moreover, the information gathered during implementation of the Project will be of great importance for other regions of Kazakhstan, where 40 so-called “peaceful underground nuclear tests for industrial purposes” were conducted: “Galit”, “Lira”, “Batolit”, “Region” and “Meridian”.

International exchange of Project results will assist in understanding the effects of potential radioactive contamination at other nucleartest sites.


The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) is an intergovernmental organization connecting scientists from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with their peers and research organizations in the EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway and the United States.


ISTC facilitates international science projects and assists the global scientific and business community to source and engage with CIS and Georgian institutes that develop or possess an excellence of scientific know-how.

Promotional Material

Значимы проект

See ISTC's new Promotional video view