Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fungus Reveals New Forms of Energy Production

A surprising discovery published back in May reveals that some fungi can create energy with the help of melanin, a pigment also found in human skin. The fungi was first discovered within the contaminated chambers of the Chernobyl reactor, where the flourishing black masses were first observed by scientists Ekaterina Dadachova and her colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City.
In laboratory conditions, it was found that the fungi Cryptococcus neoformans, when exposed to radiation, uses this energy as a plants would use light, to produce growth. Scientists have long known certain fungi can digest plastics, oils and asbestos. Now they are hopeful that this breakthrough could provide insight as to how to deal with nuclear waste and produce food in conditions with high radiation levels. But this discovery is also important in that so far it was thought that only plants could make food through photosynthesis.
And what does this mean for the melanin in our bodies- is it possible that this plays some unknown role in humans?
Dadachova pointed out to Technology Review that "The mechanism of this process needs to be established. It took at least two decades and the work of several research groups to determine the mechanism of photosynthesis."

For the abstract in PubMed.com
Check out the interview with Dadachova in Technology Review

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