The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is known as possibly the worst nuclear accident in human history. The area around the exploded nuclear reactor is uninhabitable, with radiation levels still incredibly high all these years later. Living creatures found in the area today have been identified with various deformities.
But it appears not all organisms suffer in this toxic environment. Scientists discovered a strand of fungi in the nuclear power plant which feeds on radiation which is now being tested for use in space.
The fungi were originally found in 1991 in the reactors, but it took until now for scientists to find out about its incredible properties which can help protect against radiation. This would be especially useful for astronauts, who are exposed to significant radiation while in space.
The reason the fungi acts as a shield is because it contains high levels of melanin, the pigment that turns skin darker. Much like melanin absorbs the sun, it can also absorb radiation and turns it into chemical energy. This specific process is called radiosynthesis.
“We know that space radiation is dangerous and that it damages matter,” Radamés J.B. Cordero, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead on the project, said in a release. “If you have a material that can act as a shield against radiation, it could not only protect people and structures in space but also have very real benefits for people here on Earth.”
The study into the use of this fungi for space protection will unfold over the next few months, with the researchers receiving experimental data results from aboard the International Space Station.
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