June 19, 2011, Updated September 12, 2012

A new Israeli study showed that mice exposed to asbestos had a higher level of genetic somatic mutations compared with other regions where levels of asbestos-contaminated dust are lower.

“This study clearly indicates that there is a link between the higher levels of asbestos in the environment and the frequency of genetic somatic mutations in the mammals,” said Dr. Rachel Ben-Shlomo and Dr. Uri Shanas of the University of Haifa’s Department of Biology in Oranim.

Earlier studies of asbestos have already shown that the thin fibers which penetrate the body by inhalation or through consumption of food contaminated with the material, not only cause certain cancers but also genetic mutations in DNA structures.

It is also known that asbestos is a material that decomposes slowly, over many years.

Data from the Israeli Ministry of Health indicate a rise in the number of cancer patients from exposure to asbestos in the Western Galilee region of northern Israel, and therefore the scientists set out to examine whether genetic mutations are found in the mouse population living in the region.

The scientists studied two groups of mice – one group living close to a factory that manufactured asbestos-based products during 1952-1997, and a second group from a town where no known asbestos pollutants are found.

The results indicated differences between the groups’ DNA and that the factory mice had higher levels of genetic somatic mutations.

“These findings teach us that the pollutive, mutagenic asbestos increases somatic mutational frequency, which can in turn heighten the chances of developing cancerous growths,” the researchers said.


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