Radiotrophic Fungi

In early 2002, Russian scientists sent a robot into the depths of the Chernobyl ground-zero. Their goal was to view and analyze the decay caused by such a prolonged exposure to the radiation. When the robot brought back samples of a black, slimy fungi.This fungus was discovered to actually be several types of fungi, all rich with melanin. The scientists did not expect to see any living thing with those walls and realized just how little they understood Chernobyl… Were these fungi actually appropriating the energy from the radiation?

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine began experimenting with various melanin-rich fungi and radiation. Researcher Arturo Casadevall commented that he found the story of the Chernobyl fungi “…very interesting and began discussing with colleagues whether these fungi might be using the radiation emissions as an energy source.”

And soon enough, they discovered that when melanin-rich fungi (such as Cladosporium sphaerospermum, Wangiella dermatitidis, and Cryptococcus neoformans) grew significantly faster when exposed to levels of ionizing radiation approximately 500 times higher than background levels. Their conclusions?

Exposure of melanin to ionizing radiation, and possibly other forms of electromagnetic radiation, changes its electronic properties. Melanized fungal cells manifested increased growth relative to non-melanized cells after exposure to ionizing radiation, raising intriguing questions about a potential role for melanin in energy capture and utilization.

For those who don’t understand the implications, the above states that the melanin in the fungi converts the radiation to chemical energy. Very much in the same way that plants go through photosynthesis! In a quote from researcher Ekaterina Dadachova:

Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum – ionizing radiation – to benefit the fungi containing it

This raises questions such as, “we have melanin in our skin, can we take advantage of radiation?” and even, “Does our melanin already gain energy from radiation?” With many scientists speculating that the answer to the second question is yes!

What does this information have in store for our future? Ekaterina Dadachova has a few ideas…

Since ionizing radiation is prevalent in outer space, astronauts might be able to rely on fungi as an inexhaustible food source on long missions or for colonizing other planets.

You heard it here, the astronauts of the future will have a diet consisting mainly of stuff like this:

7 thoughts on “Radiotrophic Fungi

  1. I like this site very much.

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  2. This is fascinating. I’m doing a project on them and finding their prospective uses exciting.

    Where did you find the images?

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