Chernobyl's meltdown caused a lot of things: anti-nuclear protests, an incredible number of sci-fi stories, even STALKING videogames afflicted with horrific glitches and bugs (accurately simulating a radiation damaged disk). Now it seems that there are even radiation resistant plants.
The Slovak Academy of Sciences, perhaps upset at the lack of horrible mutated monstrosities emerging from the zone, decided to see if they could grow some. In a wonderful sign that scientists are starting to heed Hollywood's warnings they didn't start with soldiers, sharks, or anything else that can already kill us. They went for plants - in fact, they went for soya beans, the least triffidiffic of all plants, whose most fiendish attack is to replace meat with flavorless styrofoam (and we have to help it do that).
By planting pots of soya inside the irradiated zone and in non-nuclear contaminated soil (which is most of it, at least until Judgement Day), the team were able to observe induced changes in the plants. Since these changes can include "mutation and death", the team had to wear radiation gear to plant the seeds, making them the Most Xtreme Gardeners ever.
Even the first generation of radiation-contaminated plants show significant adaptations to the environment. The "poisoned with long-lived 137-Cesium isotopes" environment. The most important alterations are to seed-storage proteins - proving that even if we aren't thinking of the next generation when we cut the nuclear reactor safety budget, plants are. As well as preparing their offspring for a nuclear wasteland, these Sarah-Connor-equivalent soya plants exhibit increased resistance to radiation damage and heavy-metal poisoning. So if we ever do have to engage in anti-plant war, Metallica will be useless.
Such studies are important not only for the immediate "oops we blew this up" applications, but for plants in future irradiated areas. If you don't think there are any of those we actually want to got to, there's a little place called "space" absolutely stuffed with lethal energy beams and particles out to diddle the DNA of anything that ventures beyond a magnetosphere. Radiation resistant plants could be incredibly useful in oxygen production, terraforming, or even as a food source (though there will have to be an anti-toxicity breakthrough to allow us to eat recycled radiation plants).
This is only the first of four generations the team will study, and increased radiation-based powers are expected with every iteration. We can only hope that the scientists will think to tell us if the plants start getting up or firing energy beams.
Posted by Luke McKinney