Radiation-eating Fungi Invaded Chernobyl

The fungus has a bad name. But only because of the general perception about bad things: that they can’t also be useful. And that’s wrong! The fungus is one of the best examples. It migrates from killing to life-saving. The life-saving side of it seems to be the case with fungi found at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

The good side of fungi

Fungus acquires food by absorbing dissolved molecules. They are the principal decomposers in ecological systems, and growth is their means of mobility.

They are a lot of things – a direct source of human food, as mushrooms and truffles. They have been used for the production of antibiotics. The fruiting structures of a few species contain psychotropic compounds and are consumed recreationally or in traditional spiritual ceremonies.

Fungi can break down manufactured materials and buildings, and become significant pathogens of humans and other animals. This is the case with the Chernobyl fungi, who seem to break down radioactive graphite from the core.

Chernobyl’s fungi history

In 1991, five years after the Chernobyl disaster, researchers observed traces of life in the ruins of the reactor. They didn’t set foot there, due to the radiation, but they remotely piloted robots. Fungi were growing inside the exploded former reactor and extended their kingdom to the source of the radiation: the radioactive graphite of the core. Evil thrives evil.

A decade later, the fungus was harvest from the former plant, and the truth was found: just like humans, the fungi were protected by the radiation with the help of melanin. They also grew faster in the presence of radiation compared to other fungi. In humans, the role of melanin is to dissipate the UV after absorbing the light, thus protecting the body from feral effects.

In the fungi found at Chernobyl, the melanin didn’t just absorb the radiation but also converted it into chemical energy for growth.

In 2016, eight species were sent by Jet Propulsion Laboratory to the International Space Station, where they could be exposed to between 40 and 80 times more radiation than on Earth. What the researchers hope to achieve is data for a future drug to protect astronauts from radiation on long-term missions.

Remembering Chernobyl

The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on Saturday, 26 April 1986, at the No. 4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, and it is considered to be due to human error.

It is a disaster rated at the maximum severity on the International Nuclear Event Scale, along with the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

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