Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .




Subscribe to our free daily newsletters



Radiation-Eating Fungi Could Change The Energy Balance On Earth And Beyond

Findings could trigger a recalculation of Earth's energy balance and help feed astronauts
by Staff Writers
New York NY (SPX) 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 and 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 and 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.

Upon its publication, the article will be freely available online at the PLoS ONE website

Email This Article

Related Links
Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University
Life Beyond Earth
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science



Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News


Keeping Earth And Space Clean
Moffett Field CA (SPX) May 22, 2007
Dr. Cassie Conley is NASA's acting Planetary Protection Officer, responsible for ensuring that NASA missions to other worlds do not contaminate those worlds with terrestrial microbes. Astrobiology Magazine's field research editor Henry Bortman spoke recently with Conley. In this, the first of a three-part interview, she explains what her job entails and describes the hoops that NASA jumps through to make certain its spacecraft are "clean."







  • Science Subcommittees Focus On Ensuring Health And Vitality Of NASA Workforce
  • Malaysian Astronauts Head To NASA For Training
  • Amid Turtles And Sharks, Astronauts Train For Lunar Mission
  • Using History To Design The Future

  • Seeking Mars Survival Secrets
  • Mars Rover Spirit Unearths Surprise Evidence Of Wetter Past
  • Breathtaking Views Of Deuteronilus Mensae On Mars
  • Seeking Mars Survival Secrets

  • Energia Posts 220 Percent Rise In 2006 Net Profit
  • Russia And ESA Sign Contract For Four Soyuz Launches From Kourou
  • Ariane 5 Achieves Record Performance With Geostationary Transfer Orbit
  • Ariane 5 Launches Twin GEO Birds

  • Tracking A Hot Spot In The Center Of The Biggest Ocean On Earth
  • MetOp-A Takes Up Service
  • General Dynamics Awarded Contract For NASA's Landsat Data Continuity Mission Study
  • ESA Presents The Sharpest Ever Satellite Map Of Earth

  • A Goofball Called Pluto
  • First Observation Of A Uranian Mutual Event
  • Continuing Our Jovian Journey
  • Rosetta And New Horizons Watch Jupiter In Joint Campaign

  • Gamma-Ray Bursts Active Longer Than Thought
  • Andromeda Way Will Make For A Nice Retirement Home For Our Sol
  • Baby Stars Hatching In Orion's Head
  • Johns Hopkins Team Finds Ring Of Dark Matter

  • Oresme Crater Show Many Signs Of The Early Lunar Heavy Bombardment
  • First China Mission To Moon To Launch By Year End
  • US Rejected Russian Request For Joint Moon Program
  • Longest Holiday In Space Ends As Russia Touts Lunar Tour Within Five Years

  • Putin Makes Glonass Navigation System Free For Customers
  • Hyper-Accurate Clocks - The Beating Heart Of Galileo
  • EU Sees Public Money Saving Galileo From Drifting Off Course
  • Germany Confident EU Will Take Over Galileo Project

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2006 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA PortalReports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additionalcopyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement