"Radiation-Eating" Fungi Finding Could Trigger Recalculation Of Earth's Energy Balance
2011-05-31 0:00

From: sciencedaily.com



From May 23, 2007

Scientists have long assumed that fungi exist mainly to decompose matter into chemicals that other organisms can then use. But researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found evidence that fungi possess a previously undiscovered talent with profound implications: the ability to use radioactivity as an energy source for making food and spurring their growth.

"The fungal kingdom comprises more species than any other plant or animal kingdom, so finding that they're making food in addition to breaking it down means that Earth's energetics--in particular, the amount of radiation energy being converted to biological energy--may need to be recalculated," says Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of microbiology & immunology at Einstein and senior author of the study, published May 23 in PLoS ONE.

The ability of fungi to live off radiation could also prove useful to people: "Since ionizing radiation is prevalent in outer space, astronauts might be able to rely on fungi as an inexhaustible food source on long missions or for colonizing other planets," says Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova, associate professor of nuclear medicine and microbiology & immunology at Einstein and lead author of the study.

Those fungi able to "eat" radiation must possess melanin, the pigment found in many if not most fungal species. But up until now, melanin's biological role in fungi--if any--has been a mystery.

"Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum--ionizing radiation--to benefit the fungi containing it," says Dr. Dadachova.

The research began five years ago when Dr. Casadevall read on the Web that a robot sent into the still-highly-radioactive damaged reactor at Chernobyl had returned with samples of black, melanin-rich fungi that were growing on the reactor's walls. "I found that very interesting and began discussing with colleagues whether these fungi might be using the radiation emissions as an energy source," says Dr. Casadevall.

To test this idea, the Einstein researchers performed a variety of in vivo tests using three genetically diverse fungi and four measures of cell growth. The studies consistently showed that ionizing radiation significantly enhances the growth of fungi that contain melanin.

For example, two types of fungi--one that was induced to make melanin (Crytococcus neoformans) and another that naturally contains it (Wangiella dermatitidis)--were exposed to levels of ionizing radiation approximately 500 times higher than background levels. Both species grew significantly faster (as measured by the number of colony forming units and dry weight) than when exposed to standard background radiation.

The researchers also carried out physico-chemical studies into melanin's ability to capture radiation. By measuring the electron spin resonance signal after melanin was exposed to ionizing radiation, they showed that radiation interacts with melanin to alter its electron structure. This is an essential step for capturing radiation and converting it into a different form of energy to make food.

Dr. Casadevall notes that the melanin in fungi is no different chemically from the melanin in our skin. "It's pure speculation but not outside the realm of possibility that melanin could be providing energy to skin cells," he says. "While it wouldn't be enough energy to fuel a run on the beach, maybe it could help you to open an eyelid."

Other Einstein researchers involved in the study are Ruth A. Bryan, Xianchun Huang, Tiffany Moadel, Andrew D. Schweitzer, Philip Aisen and Joshua D. Nosanchuk.


Melanized Cryptococcus with capsule. (Credit: Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova, Albert Einstein College of Medicine)


Source: sciencedaily.com



Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Pressure from the United Patriots Front Stops Mosque Plan
2016-04-28 20:10
Pressure from the United Patriots Front appears to have killed off a mosque development in Narre Warren North. The City of Casey council now looks likely to withhold planning approval for the development in a special meeting set for Tuesday night. A council report, to be considered by councillors on Tuesday, recommends that the approval be blocked. The mosque opponents’ cause has been helped by councillor ...
Police face questions over the influence of the Freemasons
2016-04-28 20:48
South Yorkshire Police today face questions over whether powerful 'secret society' the Freemasons held sway over the force at the time of Hillsborough. Families of victims say that officers who were Masons were promoted into powerful positions despite being ill-equipped, including match commander David Duckenfield. Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his ...
England Bans its Own Flag to Avoid Offending Muslims
2016-04-27 2:23
St. George's Cross "racist" towards immigrants Government officials said their city was ‘too multicultural’ to celebrate St George’s Day, England’s version of the 4th of July. The council said that displaying the English flag may have been seen as “racist” towards immigrants.
Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’
2016-04-27 2:09
Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown. The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent. He was part of a new order which emerged in ...
"Local Residents" Are Filmed Stealing Dozens of Bottles of Water at London Marathon Stop
2016-04-25 23:10
Editor's Comment: "Local" residents? Why bother blurring their faces? We know who they are. ... London marathon runners were robbed of dozens of bottled waters when thieves raided a refreshment area armed with trolleys during today's race. Nearby residents - including parents with children - were captured on camera piling up crates of free water handed out by volunteers during the 26-mile event. Marathon ...
More News »