ScienceNow Daily News reports on a recent article in the Journal of Proteome Research comparing soy plants planted within the Chernobyl restricted zone near the epicenter of the 1986 nuclear catastrophe to soy plants planted 100km away outside the zone.

The restricted zone still contains a great deal of radioactive material, and there have been conflicting reports on the effects of this on the area’s plant and wildlife. In 2006, National Geographic reported that Chernobyl wildlife, including rare species of lynx and Przewalski’s horses, were thriving “despite mutations”. An article last year in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters noted a reduced abundance of invertebrate species, and hinted at negative initial results of a survey the authors are conducting on mammal species in the area.

The soy plant study emphasizes the effects of radiation by analyzing proteins in both plants, where the Chernobyl-raised mature beans were markedly different from their uncontaminated counterparts.

When compared with normal plants, beans from the high-radiation area had three times more cysteine synthase, a protein known to protect plants by binding heavy metals. They also had 32% more betaine aldehyde dehydrogenase, a compound found to reduce chromosomal abnormalities in human blood exposed to radiation. Seed storage proteins, which provide nitrogen for germinating seeds, also showed up in different concentrations–some higher, some lower–than in regular soy.

The authors haven’t yet determined whether the Chernobyl-raised plants are viable for reproduction, but the high level of adaptability may indicate a potential for “space plants.”

How Plants Survived Chernobyl — Pappas 2009 (515): 2 — ScienceNOW.