postal irridiation

Chris Puttock cputtock at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Fri Nov 9 10:11:15 CST 2001


The extract at the website below provides a briefing to the effects on
research specimens and museum collection items from electron beam
irradiation of mail by the US Postal Service.

The following passage should be of particular concern to those who send DNA
samples through the mail to museums and laboratories.  Living material will
have little or no chance of survival.

"A special case is that of DNA molecules. The relatively large size of the
DNA molecule results in a high probability of it being hit by one or more
radiation particles. It is worth noting that the primary mode of radiation
induced eradication of micro-organisms is major destruction of the DNA.
Hence, irradiation at the levels intended for anthrax spore extermination
will also induce major damage to DNA in research specimens. These effects
will include fragmentation of the molecule and, through recombinations,
formation of mutations. The mutagenic properties of ionizing radiation are,
of course, well known, and result from these recombination reactions. While
a significant fraction of the original DNA of the specimen irradiated at
dose levels of 10-50 kGy may be preserved, the question, which arguably can
only be addressed on a case-by-case basis, is to what extent the research
value of the specimen is compromised, for the intended or future studies, by
the large scale destruction of the specimen’s DNA, and the formation of
significant quantities of mutated varieties and of major concentrations of
fragmented DNA."

I will be interested to hear if FedEx and other commercial carriers will
also be considering radiation, which will then leave little avenue for
movement of specimens between collections.

Dr. Christopher F. Puttock
Collection Manager of Botany
Department of Natural Sciences
Bernice P. Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice Street
Honolulu HI 96817-2704
Tel: 808 848 4177   Fax: 808 847 8252

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