“Life finds a way” is a very famous quote from the movie Jurassic Park. In a true testament to that, scientists have discovered a type of black fungus that eats radiation inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.
The presence of these strange fungi was found back in 1991 when scientists noticed them growing up on the walls of the reactor. Further research eventually drew the conclusion that not only the fungi was impervious to radiation, but is also attracted to it.
Researches over the decade have shown that these fungi had large amounts of melanin in them – a compound that’s found in skin to protect it from ultraviolet exposure. Darkness is skin tone is generally attributed to a higher presence of melanin.
A 2008 paper by Ekaterina Dadachova notes that there might be other organisms also capable of consuming radiation. Her paper talks about highly melanised fungal spores found in early Crectaceous period. It is said that during this period the Earth was crossing its magnetic zero and did not have its shield against cosmic radiation active then.
The fungus is called scientifically as Cryptococcus neoformans. The melanin in it absorbs radiation and turns it into chemical energy. The process is also called radiosynthesis.
Fungi such as this show that life can exist even in the most extreme situation. It highlights the possibility of the existence of organisms in radiation zones across the universe unknown to us. Researchers are also looking at ways by which the fungi can be used to protect astronomers from cosmic radiation.