Fungi Hungry for Radioactive Environment

Emilio Lee, Photo Editor

 April 26, 1986, was the date of one of the worst nuclear accidents to happen in the world, an accident that resulted in a lot of nuclear safety protocols and regulations. Even though it happened so long ago in 1986, the area around Chernobyl is still contaminated with radiation. But there may be a silver lining to this disaster that has appeared in the form of a fungus. 

“They found that on the walls of the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, there is a fungus that actually, for better a lack for a better word, eats the radiation. When they remove that fungus away from that radioactive environment, it doesn’t do so well. It actually starts to die off,” science teacher Jessica Donnelly said when she first heard of this newfound discovery in the still radioactive land in Russia.

Now, this fungus has a very special ability, it is called Radiosynthesis. Like many plant-based organisms, they use photosynthesis, which absorbs the sun’s rays and turns said light into energy. Radiosynthesis works in the same way, but instead of light, it turns radiation into its energy. How they achieve this is by using the pigment melanin, it is a broad term of natural pigments found in most organisms, and then it converts the gamma radiations and turned it into energy to help it grow. 

One of the most melanin-rich fungus in the world is known as ‘black fungus,’ which was raised steadily in the radioactive land of Chernobyl. “Black fungus is actually a commonly used name that could mean any number of species, people see it in their homes and call it black mold or black fungus,” Donnelly explained when asked about the black fungus.

Now, how we will use this newly discovered fungus? One of the most prominent potential uses of this fungi is to maintain and reduce nuclear waste. In other words, if we can understand their secrets, we can make sure that another nuclear accident may never happen. We also have the potential to make sure what happened at Chernobyl and the many other accidents all across the world do not have lingering impacts. 

There is also the potential to help us to travel to the stars above. The reason for that is for the giant ball of fire up above our very heads, the Sun is considered star, or a giant ball of hot gas which emits radiation. Whenever the sun emits radiation, it is called ‘Solar Flares.’ Now if we install this fungus inside the spacesuits as well as the space ships, then they will be more protected when the suits, as well as the ships, brake from the radiation in space.