The ruined remains of Chernobyl have become a source of several environmental mysteries. Rapid adaptation of rodents, the swift return of nature and now extremely happy fungi that seem to be feeding on waste radiation.
According to the research of some folks at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Cryptococcus neoformans is converting radiation into fuel. This could mean that fungus is the solution to two of our greatest environmental problems, lack of fuel and too much radioactive waste.
All we need to do is surround our nuclear waste with this radiation-eating fungus and then harvest it every once in a while to produce some kind of bio-fuel. I doubt we have enough radioactive waste to feed enough fungus to run America's automobile fleet, but that's hardly something to complain about.
It looks like melanin (the same melanin found in human skin) plays the roll of chlorophyl in this 'radiosynthesis.' After taking in the radio waves, the melanin starts off a reaction that allows the fungus to grow. The scientists speculate that the fungus could be used for bio-fuel farms in high-altitude areas with low-light and high-radiation. Or they could be food for astronauts on long-haul, nuclear-powered missions.
In any case, now we know that life will continue even if the light of the sun disappeared, because fungi in Chernobyl will continue to eat left-over radiation for centuries. And isn't that just the beginning of a wonderful sci-fi novel.
Via Technology Review
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