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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Company that makes dog food from fungi gets $11 million in venture capital funding

Wild Earth is a dog food start-up in Berkeley, California. It specializes in dog food made from the Aspergillus oryzae fungus, known as koji in Japan. Koji is used to make "soy sauce and fermented bean paste (including miso), and also to saccharify rice, other grains, and potatoes in the making of alcoholic beverages such as sake and shōchū." [Wikipedia]. Chemical & Engineering News reports that Wild Earth recently secured $11 million in VC funding from "VegInvest, Mars Petcare, and other backers." This looks like a great snack for people, too.

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The weird beauty of fungi: time-lapse videos

National Geographic's Hostile Planet series focuses on the "world’s most extreme environments to reveal the animal kingdom’s most glorious stories of survival on this fast and continuously shifting planet." This Boing Boing exclusive excerpts beautiful and creepy time-lapse videos of day-glo colored slimes and glistening tentacled mushrooms as they erupt, spread, and decay. The highlight of the video is the tragic fate of an ant that gets infected by a cordyceps fungus spore, which highjacks the ant's nervous system, causing it to climb to the top of a stem, where it freezes in place. In a few days, a cordyceps mushroom bursts out of the ant's head, and begins to produce spores that will eventually infect other ants.

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