Wild monkeys near Fukushima have low blood cell counts

Primates near the ill-fated nuclear power plant may have been affected by radiation

MONKEY BUSINESS  Wild monkeys, Macaca fuscata, that live near the Fukushima nuclear plant have low blood cell counts, possibly due to radiation exposure.

Alpsdake/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Radiation exposure may have altered the health of wild monkeys in Japan.

Monkeys living near the Fukushima nuclear power complex have low levels of radioactive cesium in their muscles and fewer blood cells than monkeys living farther away from the disaster site, according to a new study. The plant suffered a meltdown following the massive 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Though the health implications for the monkeys are unclear, the authors say the finding could help predict the effects of radiation on other primates, including humans. The results appear July 24 in Scientific Reports.

Researchers led by Shin-ichi Hayama of the Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Tokyo, collected blood and muscle samples from 61 Japanese macaques, Macaca fuscata, living in Fukushima City. The site is about 70 kilometers northwest of the power plant. The researchers also collected samples from 31 monkeys in Shimokita Peninsula, about 400 kilometers north of the complex.

Compared with Shimokita monkeys, which had no detectable cesium in their muscles, Fukushima monkeys had lower red and white blood cell counts, and less of the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin.

Though the two groups of monkeys seemed equally healthy, researchers speculate that lower blood cells counts could weaken their defenses against disease.

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