A type of black fungus was discovered in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1991 – “growing up the walls of the reactor, which baffled scientists due to the extreme, radiation-heavy environment,” reported Fox News. It turns out that this type of fungus eats radiation. The fungi are not only able to resist the deadly radiation – it seems to be attracted to it.
Researchers tested some of the fungi a decade later and determined that it had a large amount of the pigment melanin, which is also found in human skin. Melanin is “known to absorb light and dissipate ultraviolet radiation in skin,” as described by Fox News. Those with darker skin tones tend to have more melanin.
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In fungi’s case, it reportedly absorbed radiation and turned it into some type of chemical energy for growth. A 2008 paper by Ekaterina Dadachova, then of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said, “Large quantities of highly melanized fungal spores have been found in early Cretaceous period deposits when many species of animals and plants died out. This period coincides with Earth’s crossing the ‘magnetic zero’ resulting in the loss of its ‘shield’ against cosmic radiation.”
According to Fox News, the fungi indicate that there could be places in the cosmos – which we are unaware of – where organisms could live in radiation-filled environments.
Popular Mechanics reported that scientists will share the results of growing the fungus on the International Space Station in an upcoming paper. “The general ability of these organisms to thrive in conditions where most organisms break down, mutate, or develop cancers warrants further study across a variety of disciplines” said the article.