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In 1991, the strange fungi was found growing up the walls of the reactor, which baffled scientists due to the extreme, radiation-heavy environment.
Researchers eventually realized that not only was the fungi impervious to the deadly radiation, it seemed to be attracted to it.
A decade later, researchers tested some of the fungi and determined that it had a large amount of the pigment melanin -- which is also found, among other places, in the skin of humans.
In a 2008 paper, Ekaterina Dadachova, then of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, noted that the fungi attracted to radiation are unlikely to be the first examples of their kind.
"Large quantities of highly melanized fungal spores have been found in early Cretaceous period deposits when many species of animals and plants died out. This period coincides with Earth’s crossing the “magnetic zero” resulting in the loss of its “shield” against cosmic radiation," the paper's introduction states.
They're all around us, in the soil, our bodies and the air, but are often too small to be seen with the naked eye.
They provide medicines and food but also wreak havoc by causing plant and animal diseases.
According to the first big assessment of the state of the world's fungi, the fungal kingdom is vital to life on Earth.
Yet, more than 90% of the estimated 3.8 million fungi in the world are currently unknown to science.
Could the melanin in human skin cells likewise turn radiation into food? Casadevall speculates that it might, but the amount of energy provided would probably be very small — and certainly not enough for a busy astronaut. "Currently there is no evidence for this," says Casadevall, "however the fact that it occurs in fungi raises the possibility that the same may occur in animals and plants."