Radiation Dose Rate and Mutation Frequency

Science  19 Dec 1958:
Vol. 128, Issue 3338, pp. 1546-1550
DOI: 10.1126/science.128.3338.1546


New data have clearly confirmed the earlier finding that specific locus mutation rates obtained with chronic gamma irradiation of spermatogonia are lower than those obtained with acute x-rays. Since this result is in contrast to classical findings for Drosophila spermatozoa, and apparently contradicts one of the basic tenets of radiation genetics, it was important to determine what factors were responsible for it.

Experiments undertaken for this purpose reveal the following: (i) the lower mutation frequency is due mainly to difference in dose rate of radiation, rather than quality; (ii) a dose-rate effect is not obtained in experiments with mouse spermatozoa, confirming classical findings for spermatozoa, and indicating that the explanation for intensity dependence in spermatogonia resides in some characteristic of gametogenic stage; and (iii) a dose-rate effect is found not only in spermatogonia but also in oocytes, where cell selection is improbable, indicating that the radiation intensity effect is on the mutation process itself.

A threshold response for all mutations in spermatogonia and oocytes is not a necessary consequence of the findings. Plausible hypotheses consistent with the present results can lead to other predictions.

From a practical point of view, the results indicate that the genetic hazards, at least under some radiation conditions, may not be as great as those estimated from the mutation rates obtained with acute irradiation. However, it should not be forgotten that even the lower mutation rates obtained with the present intensity levels are still appreciable (16).