What happens when you trap 2000 fruit flies and expose them to a dose of 0.05 to 0.4 grays of radiation? You add another week to their lives—an,d considering they only live for two months, that’s saying something.
The experiment on fruit flies was carried out at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, as an attempt to investigate a concept called hormesis. Hormesis is what happens when a slight “unhealthy” stress to the body causes a paradoxical increase in longevity and health. The scientists found that the low dose of radiation for the flies boosted the length of life for female flies by 7.6% and males by 3.4%.
There’s evidence the phenomenon may not be restricted to flies. In the early 2000s, there was a scandal in Taiwan when it was discovered that steel contaminated with cobalt-60 in the 1980s had been used as building supplies. Scientists took a look at the ten thousand people who had been exposed to radiations 1000 times that of normal background radiation. The group seemed to have a lower rate of cancer than the general population.
That being said, it’s not a good idea to dose yourself with radiation and hope for the best. A radiation dose of 1000 grays would kill a human being immediately, but only shortens a fruit fly’s life. These things have a very unusual tolerance for radiation. Even the researchers doing the experiment aren’t keen on the idea of exposing people to radiation. They’d prefer to figure out what mechanism the radiation is triggering, and then replicate it. However, it’s interesting to think that a small amount of radiation could be good for us, and that radiation isn’t always the enemy.