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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The zombie fruit flies in your kitchen

Entomophthora muscae, the "fly destroyer," is a fungus that infects the insect and zombifies. Then, at dusk, "the fly points its wings straight up and dies in a gruesome pose so that a fungus can ooze out and fire hundreds of reproductive spores."

“Oh, it’s a nightmare for the flies,” retired UC Riverside entomologist Brad Mullens told KQED's Deep Look. “If their little brains could comprehend it, they would live in fear.” Read the rest

Paris zoo opens a new exhibit with an immortal mutant slime mold called "The Blob"

The blob has no mouth, but I must scream.

To be fair, it doesn't a stomach, or eyes, or feet, or anything resembling a brain, either (at least as far as modern science would define it). It's not technically a fungus, or an animal, or a planet. It is, quite simply, an incomprehensibly bizarre yellow slime mold that's also alive, and at least somewhat-sentient. Even its official scientific classification, physarum polycephalum, literally translates to "many-headed slime."

And now it's held captive and displayed at the Zoo de Paris, starting October 19.

Did I mention that this blob has some kind of intelligence, or at least the ability to remember things, and absorb knowledge from other slime mold blobs that it consumes? And that it's capable of moving independently, squishing along at a limbless rate of about 1.6 inches per hour? It also has 720 different sex organs, and will heal in two minutes if you cut it in half.

It also, apparently, loves the taste of oatmeal, as well as Acacia trees, oak bark, and chestnut bark. So um, at least it's probably not going to eat us when it ultimately escapes and seeks its revenge for being caged and mocked by us lowly humans? Maybe. If we're lucky.

From EuroNews:

"The 'blob' is a living being that is [one] of nature's mysteries. We don't really know what it is," director of the Paris Museum of Natural History, Bruno David, said, adding that it lives and grows in damp forest undergrowth away from the light.

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Delightful petri dishes filled with wool and felt fungi

Elin Thomas uses real petri dishes and fills them with beautiful crocheted felt and wool spores, mold, and fungi. Read the rest

Watch how to find and eat giant puffball mushrooms

Tim Farmer found a giant puffball mushroom in the woods, a fall delicacy that requires a little good luck and timing to enjoy. They are a lot safer than picking other wild mushrooms because they are pretty easy to identify. Read the rest