The fungus not only feeds on radiation, but thrives in places with high radioactive levels.
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, almost any type of new life surrounded the nuclear plant. However, nature always finds a way to turn the situation around and it seems that strange black fungi have grown in the most radioactive regions of the nuclear plant, a living organism that has never been seen before and that seems like coming out of another planet.
It is known that at the moment of the explosion of reactor 4, the visible effects of radiation on nature appeared immediately. The surrounding natural areas soon turned brown, creating what is known as the infamous Red Forest, which was covered by a ghastly atmosphere.
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However, animals such as wolves, dogs, and horses have thrived thanks to the lack of human activities. But wildlife is not the only thing that has surprised researchers at the Kyiv Institute of Microbiology and Virology. Vegetation and the fungi kingdom have also done so.
Researchers at the institute have come across strange jet-black fungi that appear to be growing in regions with higher radiation levels.
After the tragic accident at the nuclear plant, there was a period in which the ‘liquidators’ were in charge of cleaning up as much as possible in the exclusion zone to reduce the radiation, even if only to a few levels. However, due to the danger, the regions closest to reactor 4 were not part of the cleanup. But strangely enough, it is in these regions that the jet fungus makes its greatest appearance.
The strange fungi that reduce radiation
Researchers discovered that this is a type of fungus that is unlike any other, as its jet color indicates that its melanin levels are very high. This pigment is present in the fur of animals, as well as in human hair, skin, and eyes, as it is responsible for protecting us against ultraviolet light.
It was precisely this fact that most attracted the attention of experts and so a team from the Nuclear Research Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine began to study the ability of fungi to thrive in places where radioactivity is too high.
They found that not only are the fungi able to thrive despite the radiation; they are changing and growing because of it. This is the first evidence that nature is able to evolve from this type of energy, as Chernobyl is a unique case in the world due to the characteristics of the accident and its age.
The Fukushima accident, which is the only one equal in danger to Chernobyl, is much more recent and the mechanisms of nature to defend itself against radiation in that region are not yet known.
Berkeley National Laboratory microbiologist Tomas Torok has said that the extraordinary phenomenon of the Chernobyl fungi is known as positive radiotropism, and is described as “the ability of fungal organisms to detect radioactivity and grow directionally toward the radiation source.”
“To date, a significant amount of hot [radioactive] particles have already decayed under the action of soil fungi,” wrote Tatyana Tugay, who is also part of the research. This means that deep in the soil, fungal networks transmit signals through the roots as they “alchemize” the radiation. They have gradually been playing a decisive role in the “processes of destruction and migration of radionuclides in the environment,” Tugay described.
The unprecedented finding is of great importance as it opens a new avenue of research to understand how Chernobyl fungal world could help reduce radiation levels, not only on Earth but in space where astronauts are exposed to low but still dangerous levels of radioactivity.
Story originally published in Ecoosfera