Is there anything fungi can’t do? Just when we thought the plastic-eating mushroom was impressive, scientists have discovered an indigo beauty that feeds on radiation. Mushrooms growing near the infamous Chernobyl power plant have been feasting for years. If there were ever a time to team up with fungi, this would be it. From plastic to radiation-eating fungi, there seems to be a fungus that can turn every negative impact into a positive one.
Meet the Radiation-Eating Mushroom
The Cryptococcus neoformans fungus grows around nuclear power plants as well as in bird poop. In other words, these fungi do the dirty work. It was first discovered at the Ukrainian plant in 1991, five years after the nuclear reactor exploded. The accident resulted in 125,000 square miles being exposed to radiation. That’s a lot of environmental real estate in need of cleaning.
A nuclear accident is potentially fatal for our species. Fungi, however, have hit a jackpot. Only recently have scientists discovered that the fungi’s properties help protect people.
How Do Mushrooms Eat Radiation?
These particular fungi “can decompose radioactive material such as the hot graphite in the remains of the Chernobyl reactor,” according to a 2007 article in Nature. This is a skill we need to take advantage of.
They have dark melanin pigments (indigo to our eyes) that absorb radiation and process it into energy without negative effects. Fungi are truly gifts that keep on giving. They swallow radiation into a blissful nothingness as if it had never been there.
“Scientists believe this mechanism could be used to make bio mimicking substances that both block radiation from penetrating and turn it into a renewable energy source.”
These mushrooms are so effective that NASA wants to take them to space.
Nuclear Plants are Dangerous
Nuclear plants are dangerous. We expend a lot of energy protecting the infrastructure as well as employees. Fortunately for the plant’s neighbors, the chances of a catastrophic event are slim. On the subject of nuclear waste, though, there are a lot of opinions.
Though we often assume these plants are environmental villains, that is unclear. Many sites seek to debunk myths about nuclear waste. Though some argue over the relatively low toxic effects on the environment, last year the estimated cost of cleaning up America’s nuclear waste jumped more than $100 billion dollars in one year—$383.78 billion in 2017 to $493.96 billion in 2018.
In theory, nuclear waste might not be dangerous, yet we sure spend a lot of money cleaning up the waste. Radiation-eating fungi might be able to help with these clean-up costs. It’s an idea worth exploring.