'Nuclear Mushrooms'? Radiation-fed Fungi Found In Chernobyl Reactor; May Help Astronauts

Science

With the Ukranian government promoting the Chernobyl exclusion zone as a tourist attraction, scientists on Thursday, have discovered fungi feeding on radiation

Written By Suchitra Karthikeyan | Mumbai | Updated On:
Mushrooms

With the Ukranian government promoting the Chernobyl exclusion zone as a tourist attraction, scientists on Thursday, have discovered fungi that feed on radiation, according to international reports. Furthermore, a chain of fungi that has recently been discovered can reportedly help protect people from radiation. Mushrooms were first discovered on the walls of the reactor in 1991 - five years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

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What do 'radiation-fed' mushrooms signify?

Scientists had first tested the mushrooms in 2001 as per reports and discovered a fairly high amount of melanin pigment. This pigment is known for absorbing light and distributing ultraviolet radiation on human skin. But in mushrooms, mushrooms absorb radiation and turn it into a kind of chemical energy to grow, according to a 2008-published study by Ekaterina Dadachova.

Dadachova had explained in her study, "High amounts of melanized fungal spores were found in the early Cretaceous period when many animal and plant species died. This period also crosses the ‘magnetic zero’ where our planet lost its shield against cosmic radiation. The importance of the existence of such a creature is that it shows that organisms may be alive in environments where radiation is very intense".

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What is the scope of these Mushrooms?

Currently, NASA scientists are reportedly studying if this Melanin absorption property of humans can be used to protect astronauts in space. The scientists are attempting to create a space-approved sunscreen by extracting this 'radiation-fed melanin' from these Mushrooms. The astronauts at the International Space Station are currently testing the mushroom-derived melanin sent by Johns Hopkins University scientists in November 2019, state reports.

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What is the Chernobyl disaster?

According to World nuclear Organisation, the April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine was the product of a flawed Soviet reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel. It was a direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any safety culture. The accident destroyed the Chernobyl 4 reactor, killing 30 operators and firemen within three months and several further deaths later. While nobody offsite suffered from acute radiation effects, a significant fraction of the thyroid cancers have been diagnosed since the accident in patients who were children at the time - likely to be due to intake of radioactive iodine fallout. The resettlement of areas from which people were relocated is ongoing.

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