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Fungi could eat dangerous radiation to survive, an unexpected finding that could one day help feed astronauts in space.
Or at least astronauts willing to eat a crawling fungus.
The research began with the discovery of black fungus growing on the walls of Chernobyl's damaged, highly radioactive nuclear reactor and collected by robots. The fungus was rich with melanin, the same pigment that gives human skin its color, protecting the skin from solar and ultraviolet radiation.
The researchers speculated that "just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow," so might melanin help fungi make use of ionizing radiation, said nuclear medicine specialist Ekaterina Dadachova at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The ability of fungi to live off ionizing radiation could prove useful to people. "Since ionizing radiation is prevalent in outer space, astronauts might be able to rely on fungi as an inexhaustible food source on long missions or for colonizing other planets," Dadachova said.
Casadevall also noted that the melanin in fungi is no different chemically from the melanin in human skin.
Originally posted by Equinox99
Why can't they just bring normal food?
Originally posted by X-tal_Phusion
Radiation eating? How? Eating something that grows in such a place makes about as much sense as growing up a batch of Deinococcus radiodurans (toughest bacteria on Earth; likes to live in fuel rod pools in nuclear power plants) and tossing that down your hatch! Anything to prevent food spoilage! I say, if you can't send normal, nonperishable food, why send people into such a damaging environment? It's just meant to shock people into taking an interest in space because most people think science is boring. D. radiodurans survived the cold vacuum of space outside the shuttle. When it was brought back in, it grew merrily as if nothing happened! Who needs mold when you can have "Conan the Bacterium"?