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Monday, October 3, 2011

Fungi Can Solve Japan's Radiation Woes

Gomphidius glutinosus eats radiation.
When talking about a mushroom cloud over Japan, people quite naturally cringe and recall the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki back in 1945 and the deadly radiation it wrought on the populace.

But what if a different type of mushroom could remove the clouds of radiation from Japan following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear power reactor to nearly go into meltdown, but still spewed radiation (Cesium-137) into the air for days upon days?

Well... say hello to my little friend! He's a fungi!

There are quite a few species of fungi that absorb radiation and have been used with a lot of success in the former USSR following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. 

The relatively new science of using fungi to clean up radioactive or other types of waste is known as mycoremediation, and promises to be far less expensive than other competing methods.

It all begins at Chernobyl, when in 2007 - 21 years after the disaster caused the reactors to be cemented over, Russian scientists sent a robot in,and found life - beautiful, horrible life!!!

There... inside the most radioactive areas of the breachjed nuclear core was a common black mold growing on the reactor walls.  And it wasn't just growing, it was thriving, in what has to have been the most radioactive hostile environment on the planet that would kill you and me within minutes of exposure. 

So... armed with the fact this knowledge, Arturo Casadevall, a researcher at New York's Albert Einstein College of Medicine, investigated these fungi and identified several distinct species - noting that they all shared a single characteristic that was kind of weird: they all contained the skin pigment melanin.

One of the species of fungi, a common black mold called Crytococcus neoformans, doesn't usually contain melanin, but if it happens to be exposed to levels of radiation 500 times higher than normal background radiation, the fungi began to produce melanin within 20 to 40 minutes.

Crytococcus and other species grow faster in high radiation environments then its counterparts do at normal amounts of radiation. Casadevall's work led to the discovery that the fungi use melanin to capture energy given off by ionizing radiation, rather like plants use chlorophyll to capture sunlight.

Radiation-loving mushrooms, scientifically referred to as radiotrophic fungi have many potential applications. In 1987, at the Chernobyl disaster site, highly contaminated graphite used to cool the reactor was sen being decomposed by a then-unknown species of fungi.

Various species of fungi are also capable of concentrating different heavy metals. After the Chernobyl meltdown, mushroom hunters all over Europe were advised not to pick and eat certain species of fungi because they could be concentrating radioactive fallout.

Gomphidius glutinosus is a common woodland mushroom that concentrates radioactive cesium-137 to over 10,000 times background levels - which means it would be more than perfect to help clean up the Fukushima-ken area surrounding the Dai-ichi (Big One) nuclear power plant .

All Japan needs to do is spread the fungi spores where it wants them to grwo, then when the mushroom cap emerges, simply pluck them and dispose of them - radioactive cesium and all.

Also... maybe Japan's amateur mushroom pickers should not go mushroom picking this year.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

1 comment:

  1. Did u know that Japan had a mass production of growing mushrooms to absorb radiation and to get rid of them they export it to other countries? How evil. It was outsider's press who found out to warn the rest of Asia not to buy Japanese mushrooms.