Photos of mutated flowers, tomatoes and other items have been showing up on Twitter, Facebook and a variety of blogs since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. These daisies, depicted in a photo posted to Twitter by @san_kaido, are just the latest to go viral and point to excessive radiation as the cause. Plant scientists, though, aren’t so sure radiation is the only cause for the mutation.
@San_kaido first shared the pic in late May from Nasushiobara City about 108 miles Southwest of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The power plant, as we know, was hit by a tsunami in March 2011, disabled, and started to leak radiation. The radiation level at the site where the daisies were spotted was 0.5 μSv/h, according to National Geographic. This level is considered safe for moderate to long-term habitation.
Jeffrey Doyle, a plant biologist at Cornell University, said that it is possible the daisies were affected by the radiation. However, it is not an uncommon mutation of daisies, he continued, and it could have been caused by something else. Doyle said he has seen this mutation occasionally in other places not associated with radioactivity.
Chemicals, diseases, hormone imbalances and random mutations could all account for the strange growth. But Doyle also isn’t ruling out radiation as the cause. “It wouldn’t surprise me to find mutations of all types, including this one, in places that have higher than average levels of mutagenic agents, such as a radioactive site or toxic waste dump.”
He added that finding other plants or animals with similar or related mutations would contribute to that possibility. Even if radiation levels were 10 times what was reported at the site, “the dose rate would be highly unlikely to induce a significantly higher level of mutations,” says Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But at areas closer to the release site, local dose rate levels were much higher at the time of the accident and possibly could have caused high additional mutation rates in flora in highly contaminated areas.”
Scientists have noticed, however, a higher rate of mortality among birds and animals since the disaster in areas near the Fukushima, leading many to believe that radioactivity is having a greater effect on living things.