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Question Video: Describing the Damage That Nuclear Radiation Can Cause to Cells Science

Which of the following correctly describes the most severe effect on living cells that can result from them absorbing nuclear radiation? [A] Cells dissipate energy. [B] Cells are damaged. [C] Cells are killed.

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Video Transcript

Which of the following correctly describes the most severe effect on living cells that can result from them absorbing nuclear radiation? (A) Cells dissipate energy. (B) Cells are damaged. (C) Cells are killed.

When radiation is emitted by a nucleus, it may be absorbed by the atoms in a cell that help make up a living organism. A cell has various parts; we haven’t drawn them here. But the point is that practically nuclear radiation can transfer energy to a cell. The radiation may directly transfer thermal energy and indirectly transfer chemical energy. If a cell is heated through thermal energy, the cell may simply dissipate that energy through cooling with no negative effects.

So we see then that option (A) cells dissipating energy is one result of them absorbing nuclear radiation. But it’s a very minor one. Recall we’re looking to identify the most severe effect on a living cell. A cell may also be damaged by absorbing nuclear radiation; for example, it may heat up enough so that the cell no longer functions properly. It’s still possible, though, for a damaged cell to reproduce itself. Depending on the type of cell damage sustained, this reproduction may not be accurate, but still in this case, the cell remains alive.

Option (C), however, describes an outcome where a cell has absorbed enough nuclear radiation that the energy transferred to it results in cell death. A dead cell, of course, can’t reproduce itself. So a cell being killed is the most severe effect on that cell that can result from an absorbing nuclear radiation.

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