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Very Significant New Study into Chromosomal Damage Caused by DU

A new scientific study, reported in the New Scientist this month has found worrying new evidence of the genetic damage DU can cause even at levels deemed so low as to be non-toxic. Alexandra Miller at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, is due to complete an investigation into DU for the US Department of Defence next year. Her study shows that when human bone cells are exposed to DU, some suffer immediate genetic damage. The type of damage varies but often fragments break off chromosomes, the strings of genes in almost every cell, and form tiny rings of genetic material. This much was expected. But as other cells evidently undamaged by the depleted uranium started to divide, creating new cells, Miller noticed the genes in some of these new cells were damaged.

More than a month after the DU was removed, new cells were forming with broken chromosomes or other genetic damage. The DU was having a delayed effect. She also found that tiny amounts of DU, too small to be toxic and only mildly radioactive, cause more genetic damage in cells than either the toxicity or radiation could explain. Her latest results suggest that the toxicity and radioactivity of DU reinforce one another, causing more damage than the two just added together. "You can get more than an eight-fold greater effect than you'd expect," she says. In other words, more than eight times as many cells suffer genetic damage than predicted. Without taking this effect into account, the health risk of DU could be grossly underestimated.

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Page last updated: 6th December 2002