Radiation Research Society. 1952-2002. Historical and current highlights in radiation biology: has anything important been learned by irradiating cells?

Radiat Res. 2002 Sep;158(3):251-91. doi: 10.1667/0033-7587(2002)158[0251:hachir]2.0.co;2.


Around 30 years ago, a very prominent molecular biologist confidently proclaimed that nothing of fundamental importance has ever been learned by irradiating cells! The poor man obviously did not know about discoveries such as DNA repair, mutagenesis, connections between mutagenesis and carcinogenesis, genomic instability, transposable genetic elements, cell cycle checkpoints, or lines of evidence historically linking the genetic material with nucleic acids, or origins of the subject of oxidative stress in organisms, to name a few things of fundamental importance learned by irradiating cells that were well known even at that time. Early radiation studies were, quite naturally, phenomenological. They led to the realization that radiations could cause pronounced biological effects. This was followed by an accelerating expansion of investigations of the nature of these radiobiological phenomena, the beginnings of studies aimed toward better understanding the underlying mechanisms, and a better appreciation of the far-reaching implications for biology, and for society in general. Areas of principal importance included acute tissue and tumor responses for applications in medicine, whole-body radiation effects in plants and animals, radiation genetics and cytogenetics, mutagenesis, carcinogenesis, cellular radiation responses including cell reproductive death, cell cycle effects and checkpoint responses, underlying molecular targets leading to biological effects, DNA repair, and the genetic control of radiosensitivity. This review summarizes some of the highlights in these areas, and points to numerous examples where indeed, many things of considerable fundamental importance have been learned by irradiating cells.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells / radiation effects*
  • DNA / radiation effects
  • Genes / radiation effects
  • Genetics, Microbial / history
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / genetics
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / history
  • Radiation Genetics / history*
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / history
  • Radiobiology / history*
  • Societies, Scientific / history


  • DNA