Organism Thriving in the Highly Radioactive Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor

In 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in what was then Soviet Ukraine released massive amounts of radiation into the air, which proceeded to spread over much of Europe.

It is generally considered the worst nuclear disaster ever and radiation levels remain very high today; the Ukranian government has estimated that the area will not be habitable for another 20,000 years.

Which is why scientists were shocked when they sent a robot into the reactor and found a black slime-like fungus not only surviving but thriving in the extremely radioactive environment in the heart of Chernobyl.

Upon analyzing samples, the researchers discovered that the fungus is rich in melanin, the very same chemical in human skin. But the craziest part is that the fungus is using the melanin like a plant does chlorophyll, but rather than the UV radiation that plants use from the sun to make energy, the fungus uses all the gamma radiation left behind from the nuclear fallout.

Sample of the fungus (Wangiella dermatitidis)

In lab experiments, researchers found that the fungus grew significantly faster when it was exposed to levels of radiation 500 times greater than normal levels.

These fungi might be on the next shuttle to the space station as well. Since radiation like that leftover at Chernobyl is prevalent in space, astronauts could use the fungi as a limitless food source on long missions or even for colonizing other planets.

To read more, check out the full story here.


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