Fungi that ‘Eat’ radiation are growing on these famous walls

The fungi found thriving in the highly radioactive environment of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exhibit a remarkable ability to absorb and utilize radiation for their growth. This phenomenon has been attributed to the presence of melanin, a pigment that not only provides the fungi with their black color but also enables them to convert radiation into chemical energy through a process similar to photosynthesis. This process is called radiosynthesis, and it allows these fungi to thrive in conditions that would be lethal to most other organisms.

Research has shown that these fungi can reduce the levels of radiation in their immediate environment. For instance, experiments conducted on the International Space Station demonstrated that a shield made of the melanin-rich fungus Cladosporium sphaerospermum was able to reduce the levels of radiation by approximately 2%. This finding has significant implications for the potential use of these fungi in shielding astronauts from radiation during space travel.

Moreover, the presence of these fungi may contribute to the bioremediation of the contaminated site. While the fungi cannot completely remove the radioactive contaminants from the environment, they can immobilize some of the radionuclides, thereby potentially limiting their spread and impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

The discovery of these radiotrophic fungi has opened up new avenues for research into the mechanisms of radiation resistance and the potential applications of such organisms in mitigating the effects of radiation exposure.

Image: Wendelin_Jacober Pixabay

Wow! Nature is amazing. On the walls of the highly radioactive ruins of Chernobyl, black fungi is busy turning radioactivity into food. Now under a sarcophagus, the fungi was discovered a few years after the explosion.

Researchers realized that not only was the fungi impervious to the deadly radiation, it seemed to be attracted to it. They tested some of the fungi and determined that it had a large amount of the pigment melanin — which is also found, among other places, in the skin of humans.

Radiotrophic fungi are fungi which appear to perform radiosynthesis, that is, use the pigment melanin to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy for growth.

In a 2008 paper, Ekaterina Dadachova, then of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, noted that the fungi attracted to radiation are unlikely to be the first examples of their kind.

“Large quantities of highly melanized fungal spores have been found in early Cretaceous period deposits when many species of animals and plants died out. This period coincides with Earth’s crossing the “magnetic zero” resulting in the loss of its “shield” against cosmic radiation,” the paper’s introduction states.

Kasthuri Venkateswaran, a research scientist at NASA who is leading the experiments on what is called Cryptococcus neoformans fungi, believes that by extracting the radiation-absorbing power and manufacturing it in drug form, it could be used as a ‘sun block’ against toxic rays. He believes this would prevent cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, nuclear power plant engineers, and airline pilots from absorbing the deadly rays.