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?