Radiation and Environmental Biophysics

, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 1-19

First online:

Effects of sparsely and densely ionizing radiation on plants

  • Veronica De MiccoAffiliated withDipartimento di Arboricoltura, Botanica e Patologia Vegetale, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II
  • , Carmen ArenaAffiliated withDipartimento di Biologia Strutturale e Funzionale, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II
  • , Diana PignalosaAffiliated withDepartment of Biophysics, GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung
  • , Marco DuranteAffiliated withDepartment of Biophysics, GSI Helmholtzzentrum für SchwerionenforschungInstitut für Festkörperphysik, Technische Universität Darmstadt Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


One of the main purposes leading botanists to investigate the effects of ionizing radiations is to understand plant behaviour in space, where vegetal systems play an important role for nourishment, psychological support and functioning of life support systems. Ground-based experiments have been performed with particles of different charge and energy. Samples exposed to X- or γ-rays are often used as reference to derive the biological efficiency of different radiation qualities. Studies where biological samples are exposed directly to the space radiation environment have also been performed. The comparison of different studies has clarified how the effects observed after exposure are deeply influenced by several factors, some related to plant characteristics (e.g. species, cultivar, stage of development, tissue architecture and genome organization) and some related to radiation features (e.g. quality, dose, duration of exposure). In this review, we report main results from studies on the effect of ionizing radiations, including cosmic rays, on plants, focusing on genetic alterations, modifications of growth and reproduction and changes in biochemical pathways especially photosynthetic behaviour. Most of the data confirm what is known from animal studies: densely ionizing radiations are more efficient in inducing damages at several different levels, in comparison with sparsely ionizing radiation.