Friday, May 25

Chernobyl Fungi Feed on Radiation

Today we have a science fiction-esque follow up to my previous post about Chernobyl tourism in Prypiat, Ukraine. National Geographic reports that three types of fungus have been discovered to grow larger and faster when fed radiation. Scientists were inspired to further study after observing strange fungus growth on the ruins of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

From the paper, published and available at PLoS ONE:

Melanized microorganisms inhabit some remarkably extreme environments including high altitude, Arctic and Antarctic regions. Most dramatically, melanized fungal species colonize the walls of the highly radioactive damaged reactor at Chernobyl and surrounding soils.
The melanin in the fungi apparently gives it a blackish hue. This "pigment may play a role in the fungi similar to that of chlorophyll in plants." The paper points towards further study of melanin and its future potential for energy capture and utilization. In an interview with Ira Flatow on NPR's Science Friday today, lead scientist Ekaterina Dadachova said that this could mean the farming of melanized fungus as a bio-fuel in areas too extreme for conventional farming. Possibilities include underground or even in radiation abundant outer space.

Sadly, I haven't been able to turn up any images of the Chernobyl fungus online. Anybody up for a holiday in Prypiat?


Ken Davy said...

All the posts I've read about this keep going on about how the fungi create melanin. How about asking if the fungi reduce the ambient radiation by metabolizing it? Wouldn't that be too cool? Radioactive waste would cease to be a problem almost completely. Sites like Chernobyl could be cleaned up and made useful again. Sure, it's neat that the fungi might be a food source but let's try to be a little more like Dr. Booker T. Washington and by trying to find all the possible uses in this new discovery. Reflections
From A Shallow Pool

kirst said...

ken saying that fungi can reduce the ambient radiation is like saying photosynthetic plants decrease the amount of light in the world :-). They harness the energy they dont nuetralise it.