Article #3: To Mutate or Not to Mutate by Virginia Vetrano
The result of the Manhattan Project, an experiment to determine the effects of radiation, are very terrifying. The Manhattan Project was top secret but some scientists were permitted to view the experimental animals at various stages because it was the project that developed the first atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Groups of mice were exposed to gamma rays from the experimental piles, each succeeding group receiving double the dose of radiation of its predecessor, until a point was reached where the mice were being obviously burned. The mice were kept and the developments recorded over the next several months. All except the first three groups were dead or showed signs of lethal damage at the end of a few weeks, leaving no progeny. After being watched for a month or two the "undamaged" mice were set aside for other experiments—that is, they were treated as new stock and all seemed to go well until the next generation.
Then a startling discovery was made. Many abnormalities and "mutation" showed up. A higher and higher percentage of the mice exhibited degenerative changes and deformity each generation. Although, in almost all cases, the deviation from normal was accompanied by sterility, this was not always so. Then some of the slightly deformed mice produced larger and better looking mice than usual.
All of these mice, large and small, degenerate and deformed, were allowed to breed and in the fifteenth generation, all had warped and distorted limbs and bodies, and what was even more noticeable, queer behavior and unreliable temperaments. Stillbirths were increasing and greater numbers of the survivors were sterile and suffered from nonhealing sores or cancers. From the twenty-first to the twenty-fifth generations all had become cancerous imbeciles, unable to feed themselves. Handfed, a few survived to produce a twenty-ninth generation, but these mice were paralyzed and brain cells were growing on the outside of the skulls.
All of this happened to mice that were by all appearance and by all tests completely undamaged by the radiation. Is this evidence that mutations, like somatic damages, can develop latently as I suggested in the first part of the article? But this was not all, many of the offspring of these mice were born albinos and many were born blind, than after the seventh generation not only were they born blind, but many were born without eyes at all and many did not grow any bones, apparently because the bonegrowing genes had been omitted, and their skulls and teeth did not grow. Beginning with the twentieth generation the brain protruded unprotected and exposed to the open air. There were many monstrous developments, such as young born growing together, twins were born with only parts of their bodies separated. Many of that generation were born with what the investigators call the "death gene," which means that their progeny were completely sterile, which is, perhaps, the best solution to a condition so abnormal.
According to the Public Health Service Report, man is more susceptible than the mouse and logically an experiment made on mice would be magnified in man.
If human "mutations" develop at the same rate as those observed in the mice, we must wait up to 250 years, to know that we have come through the present spread of radiation over the earth, while, to develop the worst effects from present day exposure we must wait 400 to 600 years.
The gonads are integral parts of the body and are fed by the same bloodstream that feeds all other parts of the body. Experiments with radioactive isotopes prove conclusively that radioactive substances are carried by the bloodstream to all parts of the body. It is certain that radioactive materials, such as strontium 90, are carried to the gonads where they reach the hereditary units carried in these glands. What effect does this have on the chromosomes and genes? Is it as destructive to the germinal material as to the bones and other tissues? Will its presence, even in minute amounts, result in the production of mutations? If so, what kind of mutations may we expect?
Radiation escaping from industrial plants so constitutes a menace, not only to workers in these plants, but to the populations living within the contaminated areas. George Truman, vice-chairman of the Chemical Worker's Union, said in a speech before the conference on Industrial Health, in Manchester, England, in 1955, that men at the atomic works were sterilized by the radiation to which they were subjected. The same thing has been found to result to the men working at Oak Ridge in this country. It is obvious that scientists, militarists and manufacturers, who plan to make use of atomic power in industry, are playing with a dangerous fire that may ultimately extinguish the whole human race, even without the occurrence of an atomic war. The plain fact is that nobody knows how to bypass the unspeakable biological debasement which always follows any widespread increase in nuclear radiation.
Due to the fact that certain tissues tend to concentrate particular chemical elements, sometimes to tens of thousands of times that present in the surroundings, even though only traces of radioactive substance may be present in the water from an atomic power station, plants growing in the water or air may absorb and store the substance until a really high concentration is built up. Animals eating these plants will receive and suffer from radiation. The Japanese found, to their horror, that it takes a surprisingly short time for fish to eat slightly contaminated smaller forms to become themselves highly radioactive.
Most all the inhabitants of the earth are receiving minute, but cumulative doses of radioactivity and all future testing of atomic hydrogen and cobalt bombs will increase the danger to human, animal, and plant existence.
When in April of 1958 Dr. Linus Pauling called attention to the radioactive menace of carbon 14, which results from nuclear explosions, his statements were hooted at the subsidized scientists of the Atomic Energy Commission, who said that his statements were exaggerated and they accused him of irresponsibility. He had said, among other things, that the radiocarbon from thirty megatons of fission "will ultimately be responsible for the birth of 230,000 defective children and also 430,000 embryonic and neonatal deaths."
The scientists of the AEC have since eaten their words. A document titled, "The Biological Hazard to Man of Carbon 14 From Nuclear Weapons," has sustained Pauling's estimates. Dr. Ralph E. Lapp, of the commission, says that Dr. I. Leipunsky, also of the AEC, concludes that "bomb carbon 14 as of 1960 may ultimately involve 100,000 cases of gross physical and mental defects, 380,000 cases of stillbirths and childhood deaths and 900,000 cases of embryonic and neonatal deaths. Dr. Pauling's previous estimate was based on thirty megatons, which were about half the megatons exploded up the summer of 1958. His estimates are quite close to those of the AEC. Lapp adds: "Absolute numbers, such as those cited for carbon 14 genetic damage are impressive, especially when they apply to the 266 future generations covered by the persistence of carbon 14s long life (average life of 8,000 years").
I would substitute the word frightening for the word impressive in this last statement. The fact is that today, nobody—physician, physicist, biologist, or geneticist, knows the long-term, ultimate effects of radiation. The study of these effects is only in its infancy and there remains much yet to be learned. Indeed, there is reason to think that there is much already known that has not been made public.
It is noteworthy that from the outset of the study of radioactive damages, there has been a repeated downward revision of the maximum permissible dose. Looking back, it is obvious that our scientists have constantly underestimated the hazard. The permissible dose of 1931 was reduced by half in 1936 and then to less than half again in 1950. By 1957 the figure had been reduced to less than a third of the 1950 dosage. This is a total reduction to one-fifteenth of the 1930 dosage. It is now generally thought that that there is no threshold dosage, as I have mentioned before. Commenting upon this steady-lowering of the permitted maximum dose, Dr. L. S. Taylor, of the U.S. Bureau of Standards, said: "It will be extremely difficult to lower the standards further and still permit the effective use of radiation in medicine, industry and research."
A luminous dial wrist watch worn twenty-four hours a day would give the central body including the sex organs a dose of about 40 mr/year. Airplane pilots also receive a considerable dosage per year from luminous instrument panels. It seems that every modern invention is fraught with danger, and the only intelligent thing to do is to scrap the so-called "modern conveniences" (the harmful ones) if we wish to preserve the human race in some intelligible form.
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