Trends in Genetics ( 2021)
A growing number of known species possess a remarkable characteristic – extreme resistance to the effects of ionizing radiation (IR). This review examines our current understanding of how organisms can adapt to and survive exposure to IR, one of the most toxic stressors known. The study of natural extremophiles such as Deinococcus radiodurans has revealed much. However, the evolution of Deinococcus was not driven by IR. Another approach, pioneered by Evelyn Witkin in 1946, is to utilize experimental evolution. Contributions to the IR-resistance phenotype affect multiple aspects of cell physiology, including DNA repair, removal of reactive oxygen species, the structure and packaging of DNA and the cell itself, and repair of iron-sulfur centers. Based on progress to date, we overview the diversity of mechanisms that can contribute to biological IR resistance arising as a result of either natural or experimental evolution.