Scientists have discovered that a fungus that lives in the former Chernobyl nuclear plant could be consuming radiation. Scientists believe that this mechanism could be used to create shields against radiation that make it a renewable energy source.
According to experts, the strange fungi have the ability to “consume” radiation and turn it into energy that scientists say, can be reused.
The fungi found in Chernobyl is called Cryptococcus neoformans, and it is capable of breaking down radioactive material such as hot graphite from the remains of the nuclear power plant reactor, according to information published in Nature in 2007. Not only does it not fear radiation, but the fungus is believed to attract it.
Although the strange radiation-eating organism was discovered by experts back in 1991, its properties have never before been studied in such a detailed way as now.
The scientists have revealed that its radiation-eating secret lies in the melanin it possesses.
Melanin is the very same pigment that is present in human skin.
If this unique substance that guarantees the fungi’s characteristic is extracted by experts successfully, it could be used to block the penetration of radiation and turn it into a renewable energy source, such as an analog of solar panels, the researchers have said.
It would also relieve cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and allow nuclear power plant engineers and aircraft pilots to operate without fear of absorbing a deadly dose of radiation.
The unusual properties of Cryptococcus neoformans have been studied at the International Space Station by a team of scientists led by Kasthuri Venkateswaran.
Onboard, the radiation is high compared to the Earth’s surface, and researchers use it to find out how it behaves in space.
They hope that the fungi can serve to protect astronauts from the deadly rays of the Sun, one of the greatest dangers for future star travelers.
The fungi that grow there are radiotrophic fungi, rich in melanin. Melanin absorbs radiation and converts it into other forms of energy (including electrical energy). Our research focuses on the use of melanin along with water to convert electromagnetic radiation into electrical energy.
Based on studies, researchers say that melanin absorbs radiation and converts it into chemical energy, comparable to how plants transform carbon dioxide and chlorophyll into oxygen and glucose by photosynthesis. This specific process is called radiosynthesis.
This technology can find its place in biotechnology since it is non-toxic and biocompatible, the researchers revealed.
“We know that space radiation is dangerous and that it damages matter,” Radamés J.B. Cordero, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead on the project, said in a release. “If you have a material that can act as a shield against radiation, it could not only protect people and structures in space but also have very real benefits for people here on Earth.”
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that happened on Saturday 26 April 1986, at the No. 4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat. The Chernobyl disaster is considered the worst nuclear disaster in the history of mankind, and is one of only two nuclear energy disasters rated at seven—the maximum severity—on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
The fungus was first described in the 1890s. Given its unique properties, the fungi can be a nasty microorganism for humans if it gets into those with compromised immune systems, resulting in an infection known as cryptococcosis.
Further details about the study is expected in the near future.