Radiation-Eating Fungi Found at Chernobyl
Wed, April 21, 2021

Radiation-Eating Fungi Found at Chernobyl

 

When the Chernobyl nuclear site in Ukraine exploded in 1986, it destroyed many homes and killed thousands of people. It became unhabitable for many decades and numerous health hazards were reported. But, the disaster has paved the way for an abundance of wildlife in Chernobyl’s former Red Zone. They seem to be thriving at the site, especially because they were left there alone.

 

 

Credits: IAEA Imagebank via Flickr

 

Recently, scientists found little lifeforms that were able to thrive in Chernobyl: radiation-eating fungi. Scientists found at least 200 species and 98 genera of fungi thriving off radiation at the site, which they called “black fungi.” They were called black fungi because the researchers discovered that they have concentrations of melanin. They also found three different species growing on the walls of the abandoned nuclear reactor covered in gamma radiation: Cladosporium sphaerospermum, Cryptococcus neoformans, and Wangiella dermatitidis. 

 

 

Credits: All That's Interesting

 

The findings showed that the fungi are growing faster in the presence of the radiation at the site compared to the fungi collected outside the exclusion zone. “This means the fungi have adapted to the radiation activity and as many as twenty percent were found to be radiotrophic—meaning they grew towards the radiation; they loved it,” said Kasthuri Venkat, a senior researcher at NASA and the lead scientist on the agency’s space fungi project.

 

 

Credits: All That's Interesting

 

According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they see on the news or read in history books, the fungi can feed off the gamma rays and convert them into chemical energy called radiosynthesis. The fungi’s capabilities could be used in different ways such as protecting those who are routinely exposed to radiation like cancer patients and nuclear power plant engineers. The scientists are also hoping that the fungi could be used to develop a biological source of energy via radiation conversion.

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