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Turtle Shells Store Scientific Data


Did you know that core samples taken from ice caps can reveal the earth’s temperature from past centuries—even millennia? And what’s up with some animals that may be able to sense an earthquake coming their way? Nature has many ways of helping scientists discover and unravel information that enables us to understand our world better.

Just recently, scientists discovered how turtle shells help us understand radioactivity contamination in our environment. It doesn’t explain the Teenage Mutant Turtles. But it does explain how nature works.

According to new research published in the scientific journal, PNAS Nexus, turtle shells capture radioactivity as they grow. The way it works is very simple. By looking at keratin, a protein present in the shells of chelonians (fancy for turtles, tortoises, and similar creatures), scientists can observe uranium contamination over a period of years.

Turtle shells grow in a way that is similar to trees, developing a series of rings over time. The more rings, the older the turtle. The keratin in each ring captures any radioactive elements around the turtle. Scientists use a unique device to analyze the rings in the turtle shells to measure radioactivity.

Five different types of turtles were studied: from the Marshall Islands, the Nevada desert, and Oak Ridge in Tennessee. In each of these locations, turtles are still alive and still growing their shells, with layers capturing any radioactive material they encounter.

So where does the radioactivity come from? Nuclear reactions fuse elements together to create power. The waste from this fusion ends up in the air, ground, and water. Organisms, including turtles and humans, absorb this radioactive waste.

Learn More 

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