My watch list  


Radioresistance is the property of organisms which are capable of living in environments with very high levels of ionizing radiation.

Radioresistance is surprisingly high in many organisms, in contrast to previously held views. For example, the study of environment, animals and plants around the Chernobyl accident area has revealed an unexpected survival of many species, despite the high radiation levels. A Brazilian study in a hill in the state of Minas Gerais which has high natural radiation levels from uranium deposits, has also shown many radioresistant insects, worms and plants.

Radiation can also help some plants to become more adapted to their environment by increasing the growth rate of the seeds. This helps them germinate faster.


Induced radioresistance

Radioresistance may be induced by exposure to small doses of ionizing radiation. Several studies have documented this effect in yeast, bacteria, protozoa, algae, plants, insects, as well as in in vitro mammalian and human cells and in animal models. Several cellular radioprotection mechanisms may be involved, such as alterations in the levels of some cytoplasmatic and nuclear proteins and increased gene expression, DNA repair and other processes.

Many organisms have been found to possess a self-repair mechanism that can be activated by exposure to radiation in some cases. Two examples of this self-repair process in humans are desribed below.

It is interesting to note that while Devair Alves Ferreira got a large dose during the Goiânia accident of 7.0 Gy he lived while his wife who got a dose of 5.7 Gy died, the most likely explanation is that his dose was fractionated into many smaller doses which were absorbed over a length of time while his wife stayed in the house more and was subjected to continuous irradiation without a break so giving the self repair mechanisms in her body less time to repair some of the damage done by the radiation. In the same way some of the persons who worked in the basement of the wrecked Chernobyl have built up doses of 10 Gy, these workers received these doses in small fractions so the acute effects were avoided.

It has been found in radiation biology experiments that if a group of cells are irradiated then as the dose increases the number of cells which survive decrease. It has also been found that if a population of cells are given a dose before being set aside (without being irradiated) for a length of time before being irradiated again then the radiation has a smaller ability to cause cell death. The human body contains many types of cells and the human can be killed by the loss of a single type of cells in a vital organ. For many short term radiation deaths (3 days to 30 days) the loss of cells forming blood cells (bone marrow) and the cells in the digestive system (wall of the intestines) cause death.

In the graph below a dose / survival curves for a hypothetical group of cells has been drawn with and without a rest time for the cells to recover. Other than the recovery time partway through the irradiation the cells would have been treated identically.

Inheritance of radioresistance

There is strong evidence that radioresistance can be genetically determined and inherited, at least in some organisms. Heinrich Nöthel, a geneticist from the Freie Universität Berlin carried out the most extensive study about radioresistance mutations using the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, in a series of 14 publications.

Radioresistance in radiation oncology

Radioresistance is also a term sometimes used in medicine (oncology) for cancer cells which are difficult to treat with radiotherapy. Radioresistance of cancer cells may be intrinsic or induced by the radiation therapy itself.

See also

Radioresistance comparison

The comparison below is meant to give an indication of radioresistance for different species. There are generally big differences in radioresistance between experiments due to small number of specimens and being unable to control the testing environment (the number for human for instance was determined from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in WWII).

Lethal radiation doses (gray)
Organism Lethal dose LD50 LD100 Class/kingdom
Dog   3.5 (LD50/30 days)[1]   Mammals
Human 4-10[2] 4.5[3] 10[4] Mammals
Rat   7.5   Mammals
Mouse 4.5-12 8.6-9   Mammals
Rabbit   8 (LD50/30 days)[1]   Mammals
Tortoise   15 (LD50/30 days)[1]   Reptile
Goldfish   20 (LD50/30 days)[1]   Fish
Escherichia coli 60   60 Bacteria
German cockroach   64[2]   Insects
Shellfish   200 (LD50/30 days)[1]   -
Fruit fly 640[2]     Insects
Amoeba   1000 (LD50/30 days)[1]   -
Parasitoid wasp 1800[2]     Insects
Deinococcus radiodurans 15000[2]     Bacteria


  1. ^ a b c d e f Radiochemistry and Nuclear Chemistry, G. Choppin, J-O. Liljenzin and J. Rydberg, edition three, page 481, ISBN 0-7506-7463-6
  2. ^ a b c d e Cockroaches & Radiation. Retrieved on 2006-05-13.
  3. ^ Radiation Notes: Radiation Damage and Dose Measurement. Retrieved on 2006-05-13.
  4. ^ CDC Radiation Emergencies, Acute Radiation Syndrome: A Fact Sheet for Physicians.
  • Joiner, M.C. Induced Radioresistance: An Overview and Historical Perspective. Int J Rad Biol, 65(1): 79-84, 1994 (Abstract)
  • Ling CC, Endlich B. Radioresistance induced by oncogenic transformation. Radiat Res. 1989 Nov;120(2):267-79. PMID 2694214
  • Cordeiro AR, Marques EK, Veiga-Neto AJ. Radioresistance of a natural population of Drosophila willistoni living in a radioactive environment. Mutat Res. 1973 Sep;19(3):325-9. PMID 4796403
  • Nöthel H. Adaptation of Drosophila melanogaster populations to high mutation pressure: evolutionary adjustment of mutation rates. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1987 Feb;84(4):1045-9. PMID 3103121
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Radioresistance". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE