There's a new radiation-eating fungus strand growing at Chernobyl

Five years after the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl, scientists discovered a fungi known as Cryptococcus neoformans growing in the wreckage. Humans had known about this particular strain since the late 1800s, since it's known to cause some nasty infections in our decidedly non-fungal human bodies.

Now, after letting the fungus hang around in the radioactive wasteland for a few decades, they've discovered something else: that C. neoformans can actually thrive on that radiation.

From the Express:

The fungi, named Cryptococcus neoformans fungi, contains large amounts of melanin – a pigment found in skin which turns it dark.

The copious melanin levels absorb the harmful radiation, turning it into chemical energy, in the same way plants convert carbon dioxide and chlorophyll into oxygen and glucose via photosynthesis.

While the idea of a radiation-eating fungus sounds like the plot of sci-fi horror film and/or further proof that our reality is broken, some scientists actually believe this process (known as radiosynthesis) can be beneficial to humans. If harvested correctly, it could potentially be used to create a powerful sun-resistant cream to help protect astronauts from radiation; in fact, they've already tested it at the International Space Station. Other scientists have proposed that this fungus could help to store energy, as a biological alternative to solar panels, or somehow serve to help patients undergoing chemotherapy.

So maybe instead of a sci-fi horror film, we're headed more towards a cool biopunk symbiote scenario? Here's hoping, anyway.

Chernobyl news: Fungi discovered in nuclear reactor which EATS radiation [Sean Martin / Express]

Fungi found in Chernobyl feeds on radiation, could protect astronauts [Abrar Al-Heeti and Jackson Ryan / C-Net]

Image: Pxhere (Public Domain)

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