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Date: Oct 01, 2018

Pilot study suggests existence of genetic defects caused by X-radiation A higher occurence of gene mutations can be found in offspring of radar soldiers, who where exposed to high dosages of X-radiation during their service, than in families who weren't exposed. This was shown by a research team from the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), the Max-Delbrück-Centrums for Molecular Medicine, the Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands) and the Universitätsklinikum Bonn in a pilot study, which is now published in the journal "Scientific Reports". The results of this pilot study are to be verified by a larg-scale study. Radarsoldiers who, until 1985, where tasked with the maintenance of radar equipment and their families can participate.

Until the 1980s military radar units were often inadequately shielded from the X-radiation which was emitted by the radar equipments amplifier tubes. This X-radiation could lead to radiation damage in soldiers tasked with operating or maintaining the equipment.  The affected people have organized themselves as the „Bund zur Unterstützung Radarstrahlengeschädigter“. In 2003 an expert committee gave recommendations for compensation payments. As for several children of radar soldiers physical handicaps where diagnosed, which the affected attribute to the fathers radiation exposure, now a further focus will be placed on the offspring. It is controversial if the radiation exposure led to genetic defects in these children.
 
A research team from the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), the Max-Delbrück-Centrums for Molecular Medicine, the Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands) and the Universitätsklinikum Bonn sought to answer this question in a pilot study.  "With new methods of high throughput sequencing whole genomes of parents and their children can now be evaluated in a short time. Through this mutation rates due to radiation exposure can be determined much more precisely", says first Author Dr. Manuel Holtgrewe of the Core Unit Bioinformatik (CUBI) part of the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin.
 
Researchers analysed the genomes of a total of twelve families.
 
The whole genomes of 18 children and their parent's were sequenced. The exact dosages of radiation exposure of the soldiers are no longer determinable. Nevertheless the researchers are estimating a "high dosage" of radiation was emitted by the radar equipment backed in part by the increased occurence of cancer in radar soldiers. The researchers compared the mutation rates in the genomes of the radar soldiers offspring with 28 children from parents who weren't exposed to radiation.
 
The focus was on so called "Multisite de novo Mutations" (MSDN), which in mice were already proven to result from X-radiation exposure. A MSDN is considered as such if there are two or more neighbouring defects on a stretch of 20 basepairs in the genome. Whilst in the families without radiation exposure a MSDN could only be found in every fifth offspring for the radarsoldier families they were found in two out of three. A total of twelve MSDNs were found in the 18 children of the radar soldiers, for one family there were even six MSDNs in three children. Furthermore for two people changes in the chromosome were verified which had serious clinical implications. Their origin could als be linked to fathers germline and has a low chance of occuring naturally.
 
"The results of our pilot study imply that the increased occurence of certain gene defects caused by X-radiation exposure can be principally proven in the next generation", says Prof. Dr. Peter Krawitz of the Institute of Genomic Statistic and Bioinformatics at the Universitätsklinikum Bonn. How pronounced this increased occurence of gene defects caused by X-radiation acutally is has to be first shown by larger studies based on a signifcantly wider data base. A team around Krawitz is currently planning such a follow up study together with the Institute for Human genetics at the Universitätsklinikum Bonn, the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Insitute of Helath (BIH), sponsored by the Bundeswehr (German armed forces). Former radar soldiers who are expected to have been exposed to an increased amount of X-radiation and their offspring can get in touch if they are interested in participating in the study.
 
The researchers extend their thanks to the "Bund zur Unterstützung von Radargeschädigten (BzUR)" and it's members for their support in the now published study. The study was enabled through a private donation of 50.000 Euro from Dr. Gisela Sperling.
 
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