Scientists have revealed that a fungus that can potentially ‘eat’ radiation has been discovered inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.
The 21cm-thick fungus could ‘largely negate the annual dose-equivalent of the radiation environment on the surface of Mars’, meaning it could be used to allow humans to live on the Red Planet.
It has already been used to combat harmful cosmic rays on the International Space Station, which has given researchers hope it could in fact be used to protect colonies on Mars.
Nils Averesch, a Stanford researcher who co-authored the study, told New Scientist:
What makes the fungus great is that you only need a few grams to start out.
It self-replicates and self-heals, so even if there’s a solar flare that damages the radiation shield significantly, it will be able to grow back in a few days.
The black fungi was first discovered in the Ukraine five years after the Chernobyl explosion, leaving scientists baffled as to how it had managed to survive in the radiation.
In fact, the fungi had not only survived the extreme conditions, it had even grown towards the radiation, as though it was attracted to it.
After closer inspection, researchers found that this was down to its large amounts of melanin, which allowed the fungi to absorb rays that would normally be deemed as harmful, before converting it into chemical energy.
It works in the same way plants absorb carbon dioxide and chlorophyll into oxygen and glucose by photosynthesis, as the fungi absorbs the deadly rays to produce energy in a process called radiosynthesis.
NASA scientist Kasthuri Venkateswaran believes this radiation-absorbing power can be extracted and manufactured into a drug, which could be used as a ‘sunblock’ against toxic rays.
Such a drug could be given to cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, as well as nuclear power plant engineers and aircraft pilots to protect against potentially absorbing a fatal amount of rays.
It’s thought the converting power could even be used to power electrical appliances, which would therefore present an environmentally-friendly renewable energy.
Perhaps even more incredible than that, scientists have touted the chemical energy protector could even be used to allow colonies to exist on Mars, where radiation levels are much higher than here on Earth.
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