Matthew Breen :: PhD :: C.Biol :: FRSB ::
Professor of Genomics and the Oscar J. Fletcher Distinguished Professor of Comparative Oncology Genetics

Dogs of Chernobyl – A Genetic Analysis

In collaboration with Norman Kleiman at Columbia University, and others, we have been using genetic approaches to study a population of dogs living around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

Following the nuclear disaster at the power plant in April 1986, residents from surrounding towns and villages were evacuated. Evacuees were forced to leave behind their companion animals. These abandoned pets, including dogs and cats, and agricultural livestock were targeted by liquidators in an attempt to control the potential spread of radiation. The Breen lab is focused on the dogs currently residing in the region, which are the supposed descendants of those who evaded the liquidators. Over time the resident dog population has been exposed to a variety of toxicants, including radioactive particles, heavy metals, and organics. So far, we have worked to understand the genetics and structure of two different populations of Chernobyl dogs with differential exposures: one living in the immediate vicinity of the power plant, and one living 16 km away in Chernobyl City. We aim to use this information in our search for genetic evidence of local adaptation and to better understand any consequential health effects of these exposures.

In March 2023 we published the results of two complementary scientific studies about our work with the dogs of Chernobyl, one with our collaborators at the NIH (Spatola et al, 2023)  and the other independently (Dillon et al, 2023).