Radiation can have either a positive or negative impact on plant seeds. Radiation occurs naturally but can be manipulated to create different effects. The type and amount of radiation the seeds are exposed to will determine whether being irradiated is beneficial or detrimental to plant growth.
According to the Health Physics Society at HPS.org, everything in the world is exposed to naturally occurring radiation that comes from microwaves, UV rays and light waves. These nonionizing radiation waves don't affect seeds as long as they are in low amounts that are found in normal environments daily. There are still many questions as to the effect of long- and short-term exposure of nonionizing radiation on plant seeds.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves of radiation in the prevention of disease. Irradiating sprouting seeds for foods such as sprouts, alfafa and soy can destroy microorganisms. This is to prevent risk and outbreak of serious health conditions that result from microorganism pathogens such as E. coli.
The FDA treats the radiation as an additive and purports that there is no negative effect on the sprouts. The FDA is being asked to reevaluate this position by several health advocacy groups, such as OrganicConsumers.org, which claim that the irradiated seeds and sprouts are not "substantially the same" as seeds not exposed to radiation. Concerns are that the irradiation can diminish the nutritional value of the resulting food and may carry residual radiation that may accumulate over time by those consuming the sprouts.
Ionizing radiation, depending on the amount, can kill and mutate plants and animals in its way. An ongoing NASA project is working to determine the long-term effects of ionizing radiation on the ability of seeds to germinate. The hope is that determining the proper shielding can help astronauts grow seeds in space.
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