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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Professional dancer and actress Kylie Shea performed in front of a thermographic camera that forms an image from infrared radiation. From Instagram:
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We filmed this late one night on a tennis court in the freezing cold to watch and study how my body heats up when I dance. My core was the first to fire up and the back of my legs (the place my body prefers to store fat) remained ice cold for the entire 45 minutes of improv. Though this was a few years ago, I recently rediscovered the footage and realized I had never shared it here on IG! This study fascinated me and I look forward to exploring it further with different styles of movement! Cheers to growing, learning, and dancing, always. ???? Motorcycle “As the Rush Comes” (Gabriel & Dresden Chillout Mix)
The Lima National Security Center was home to a bevy of nuclear weapon tests during the Cold War. Today, it’s still being used to fart around with radiation, but in a way that’s actually beneficial to folks like you and I. This five minute video shows how first responders are being trained to deal with nuclear materials being released, due to an accident, terrorist attack or—holy shit, please no—a tactical nuclear weapons strike on an urban population.
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Chernobyl, the five-part HBO/Sky dramatization of the 1986 nuclear disaster, is filled with more dread, tension and horror than any Hollywood movie I've seen in years. The most unsettling part of it is knowing that it adheres closely to the truth, right down to the details. Yet I'm still startled to see just how exacting the production design is, as demonstrated by this footage from one of the plant roofs where "liquidators" struggled to remove irradiated debris by hurling it back into the open core of the reactor. Jump to about 7:45 for the roof work.
Compare to the "roof" scene from the show, which integrates the true footage so cleverly you wouldn't know it if you hadn't seen it for yourself:
If you still need convincing that you should check out this amazing show, here's the scene from Ep. 1 where three young plant workers inspect the reactor hall after the explosion. They know what they're afraid of finding, but they don't know that it's going to be... well, you watch it and see for yourself.
Embedded below, a hapless engineer is ordered onto the roof so that managers can debunk claims that the reactor is exposed to the open air. He knows he's dead as soon as he sees the satanic cloud of smoke billowing from the ruin. He knows the guard escorting him up there is dead, too—and that guy doesn't even have to go up to the edge and look down into it. The guard doesn't have to go back to the managers and get yelled at again, either. Read the rest
Hey, remember a few months back when we told you about the dogs of Chernobyl? If not, long story short: when the nuclear power plant lost its shit back in the 1980s, everyone was evacuated so quickly that they were forced to leave their pets behind. The dogs living in the area were irradiated, but continued to breed. They went feral. Their numbers grew. But, when crews returned to the power plant with plans to clean the joint up, the dogs remembered that people were mostly OK. As such, the pooches decided to hang out. There was talk of a cull, but the workers at the plant refused to participate. A charity stepped in to keep and care foe the dogs. They’re currently living the best life many of them will have ever known.
For a handful of the wild pups, things just got even better.
According to Meduza, Ukraine State officials are planning on taking up to 200 of the dogs out of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. After holding them in medical quarantine for 45 days, the puppers, provided will be flown to the United States, where they’ll be put up for adoption. Provided they’re deemed to be free of radiation poisoning or any other weirdness, the first 12 dogs will be flown to the United States for adoption this June. There’s no word on where the dogs will be put up for adoption, but maybe that’s just as well: the dogs should be adopted because they’ll be lovable, loyal companions and not because of their irradiated pedigree. Read the rest
Two days ago, a truck carrying a container of radioactive cobalt-60 (enough to make a dirty bomb) was stolen by carjackers off a highway near Tijuana. Today, authorities found the truck. The thieves probably aren't terrorists, just some guys who wanted a truck with a crane attached to it. But, at some point, they opened the container of cobalt-60 and will now almost certainly die from radiation exposure. Read the rest
The New York Times has a story that ties together several reports of contaminated, radioactive water leaking into the ground and the nearby harbor at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan. From the sounds of things, this water has not yet heavily contaminated the open sea. That's the good news. The bad news is that everybody pretty much agrees that TEPCO has no idea what to do when it comes to actually stopping the leaks, and no clue how long they could continue. Read the rest
A trend towards drier, hotter summers in the forests around the abandoned nuclear power plant at Chernobyl has increased the riks of forest fires in the region — which is a big deal, considering the fact that trees and plants in the area have absorbed some of the radioactive isotopes from the 1986 disaster. If they burn, more people will be exposed to airborne particles. It's a small fraction compared with the people exposed by the original Chernobyl power plant fire, but still dangerous. Read the rest
Recently, I linked you to a report on the World Health Organization's estimates of the long-term risk of cancer and cancer-related deaths among people who lived nearest to the Fukushima nuclear plant when it went into meltdown and the people who worked to get the plant under control and into a cold shutdown. The good news was that those risks seem to be lower than the general public might have guessed, partly because the Japanese government did a good job of quickly getting people away from the area and not allowing potentially contaminated milk and meat to be consumed. The bad news: That one aspect isn't the whole story on Fukushima's legacy or the government's competency. Although the plant is in cold shutdown today, it still needs to be fully decommissioned and the site and surrounding countryside are in desperate need of cleanup and decontamination. That task, unfortunately, is likely to be far more difficult than anybody thought, with initial estimates of a 40-year cleanup now described as "a pipe dream". One key problem: The government cut funding to research that could have produced the kind of robots needed for this work, because it assumed that nobody would ever need them. Read the rest
The Van Allen Belts are donut-shaped rings of radioactive particles that encircle the Earth. They can damage satellites and pose a bit of a risk for human astronauts who venture outside our planet's protective magnetic field and into the regions of the belts. Back in high school, you probably learned that there were two of them. But, it turns out, under certain situations, this planet actually has three Van Allen Belts. The story about this at Nature News, written by , is a joy to read. You really get a sense of how totally scientists' minds were blown by this discovery. Read the rest
At Time, Bryan Walsh reports on two pieces of news coming out of the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. First, the World Health Organization has released estimates of the health effects on the plant's workers, the people who were involved in shutting it down, and the local residents who lived closest to the plant when it went into meltdown. These people will have an increased risk of leukemia, thyroid cancers, and cancer, in general. But the increase isn't as large as you might have feared. Walsh does a very good job of breaking down the statistics, here. The second bit of news is, unfortunately, not so good. In Germany, which decided to phase out nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima, coal power is on the rise. And it's rising faster than the increase in renewable energy. Read the rest
It may be a little late for folks on the East Coast to round up the necessary parts before the blizzard really hits, but this would be a fun trapped-in-the-house project. It's not cheap, but it does give you the opportunity to see how subatomic particles interact with one another in the privacy of your own home. In a post at Scientific American George Musser explains how he put his experiment together. A follow-up promises to show you how to use it, and what he found when he did. Read the rest
In comic books, radiation exposure always leads to awesome superpowers. In reality, not so much. Except in the case of Cladosporium cladosporioides, a fungus exposed to high doses of radiation during the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. Not only did C. cladosporioides survive it gained a superpower — the ability to "eat" radiation. Read the rest
This is the difference between low kinetic energy (top) and high kinetic energy (bottom), as illustrated in the 1956 Disney book Our Friend the Atom. It may be useful in visualizing some of the ideas presented in my recent feature on space radiation.
From Fresh Photons, a fantastic blog chock full of science pictures.
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Space is full of radiation. It's impossible to escape. Imagine standing in the middle of a dust storm, with bits of gravel constantly swirling around you, whizzing by, pinging against your skin. That's what radiation is like in space. The problem is that, unlike a pebble or a speck of dirt, ionizing radiation doesn't bounce off human flesh. It goes right through, like a cannonball through the side of the building, leaving damage behind.
How a 19th-century fascination with x-rays turned deadly.