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Microbial cells can cooperate to resist high-level chronic ionizing radiation

Shuryak, Igor; Matrosova, Vera Y.; Gaidamakova, Elena K.; Tkavc, Rok; Grichenko, Olga; Klimenkova, Polina; Volpe, Robert P.; Daly, Michael J.

Understanding chronic ionizing radiation (CIR) effects is of utmost importance to protecting human health and the environment. Diverse bacteria and fungi inhabiting extremely radioactive waste and disaster sites (e.g. Hanford, Chernobyl, Fukushima) represent new targets of CIR research. We show that many microorganisms can grow under intense gamma-CIR dose rates of 13–126 Gy/h, with fungi identified as a particularly CIR-resistant group of eukaryotes: among 145 phylogenetically diverse strains tested, 78 grew under 36 Gy/h. Importantly, we demonstrate that CIR resistance can depend on cell concentration and that certain resistant microbial cells protect their neighbors (not only conspecifics, but even radiosensitive species from a different phylum), from high-level CIR. We apply a mechanistically-motivated mathematical model of CIR effects, based on accumulation/removal kinetics of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidants, in bacteria (3 Escherichia coli strains and Deinococcus radiodurans) and in fungi (Candida parapsilosis, Kazachstania exigua, Pichia kudriavzevii, Rhodotorula lysinophila, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Trichosporon mucoides). We also show that correlations between responses to CIR and acute ionizing radiation (AIR) among studied microorganisms are weak. For example, in D. radiodurans, the best molecular correlate for CIR resistance is the antioxidant enzyme catalase, which is dispensable for AIR resistance; and numerous CIR-resistant fungi are not AIR-resistant. Our experimental findings and quantitative modeling thus demonstrate the importance of investigating CIR responses directly, rather than extrapolating from AIR. Protection of radiosensitive cell-types by radioresistant ones under high-level CIR is a potentially important new tool for bioremediation of radioactive sites and development of CIR-resistant microbiota as radioprotectors.


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Radiation Oncology
Published Here
March 22, 2018