Tag Archives: fungus

A Chernobyl fungus that thrives on radiation

Scientists have found that a Chernobyl fungus that eats radiation, turning it into food, is so successful that they have sent samples to ISS to see how it responses to space radiation.

By growing it in the International Space Station, where the radiation level is hiked compared to that on Earth, Venkateswaran and Professor Clay Wang of the University of Southern California were able to monitor mutation. When microorganisms are put under more stressful environments, they release different molecules, which could further out understanding of the fungi and how it can be used to develop radiation-blocking drugs for humans.

It is also possible that the fungus could be adapted for other uses.

Kasthuri Venkateswaran, a research scientist at NASA who is leading the experiments on the Cryptococcus neoformans fungi, believes that by extracting its radiation-absorbing power and manufacturing it in drug form, it could be used as a ‘sun block’ against toxic rays.

It would allow cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, nuclear power plant engineers and airline pilots to operate without fear of absorbing a deadly dose of rays, Venkateswaran envisaged to Scientific American magazine.

The fungi’s radiation-converting power could also be used to power electrical appliances, with it being touted as a possible biological answer to solar panels.

It appears that the fungi’s high level of melanin contributes to its ability to do this.

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A short dose of ultraviolet light might save North America’s bats

Researchers have found that the fungus that has been decimating bat populations in the eastern United States for the past decade is easily killed by a short dose of ultraviolet light.

Upon being compared to six non-pathogenic Pseudogymnoascus species, it was found that P. destructans lacks a key enzyme that allows it to repair DNA damage caused by ultraviolet light. When samples of the fungus were exposed to a low dose of UV-C light from a handheld source, the survival rate was only about 15 percent – this dropped to less than 1 percent when the dose was moderate. In both cases, the duration of exposure was a matter of no more than a few seconds.

Next comes a control group experiment. If this proves true, than it might be possible to safely sterilize both bat populations and caves of the fungus. To work, however, the task will likely require repeated yearly visits to bat hibernation sites to kill the fungus before it causes the bats to wake up in the winter. Such visits have their own problems, and would be difficult to pay for. However, I am sure the caving community across the U.S. would be glad to volunteer for this effort, and could handle it.

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White nose found in North Caroina

The fungus that has been killing cave hibernating bats throughout the eastern United States has now been found in North Carolina.

In a related note, the National Speleological Society has sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, expressing its concern over what many cavers believe has been the government’s indiscriminate cave closure policies in response to the white nose fungus. Key quote:

Our members have been extremely patient and collaborative throughout the entire [white nose syndrome] situation, but the frustration and discontent has been growing. We are hearing more and more from across the country that cavers do not want to participate in collaborative efforts – in much part due to management decisions by federal and state agencies that are perceived by knowledgeable and conservation-minded cavers to be over-reactive, based on sometimes slim science, speculation and political pressure, and insensitive to broader science and conservation issues. That result would not be beneficial to anyone.

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