Monday, May 5, 2008

Fungus... making uranium safe again and eating radiation

I know this is sort of getting ridiculous but here's yet ANOTHER story about the amazing abilities of fungi to bioremediate. This time it's depleted uranium. A product of the military-industrial complex and its unending wars this heavy metal is found in the soil of a battlefield where armor piercing bullets were fired. But long after the killing has stopped, this heavy metal remains, leaching into groundwater, getting taken up into plants and animals, and making its way into people where it poses a serious threat of toxicity.

Along come mushrooms whose filamentous network of mycelium can colonize the uranium and via oxidation convert it into a stable mineral form, uranyl phosphate. While still hazardous (just as uranium ore is hazardous) this new chemical configuration is not bio-active, making it much more difficult for the uranium to get into humans or the groundwater.

This is great news and really underscores just how important microorganisms are in effecting soil composition and ecosystem health.

This story has some pretty interesting overlap with a report published last year that found fungus can actually convert radiation energy into biomass. It does this through the chemical melanin (found in your skin) that can capture ionizing radiation into chemical energy, much as a green plant uses chlorophyll to accomplish the same thing but with a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

So maybe the fungus that can take uranium out of the bio-cycle are actually using the metal as an energy source, a sort of mini nuclear reactor that it can tap into and at the same time process the waste. Genius!

1 comment:

sage said...

Check it out dude: