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Fungi Found to Help Decontaminate Areas with Nuclear Pollution
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Fungi Found to Help Decontaminate Areas with Nuclear Pollution

Seraiah Alexander
Seraiah Alexander
April 10, 2024
2 min

Nuclear power has emerged as a potential solution to reducing the effects of climate change because of its ability to create high amounts of energy and electricity with minimal greenhouse gasses. However, during the production process, nuclear plants can accidentally release radionuclides that contaminate the environment. Radionuclides are atoms with an unstable nucleus that release radiation as they break down and become more stable. In high concentrations, radionuclides can be harmful to human health and the environment. 

Fortunately, a recent study has found that certain types of fungi have the remarkable ability to mitigate this risk by absorbing and stabilizing radionuclides, thus reducing their mobility and potential for harm. This discovery offers a sustainable means of effectively removing these radioactive particles from the soil and water.

How fungi absorb radionuclides

The study focused on halophilic fungi, which thrive in environments with high salt concentrations. These fungi were selected because of their ability to withstand conditions where most organisms could not survive, hinting at their resilience and potential capabilities to absorb various substances. The fungi were introduced to carefully controlled environments that were contaminated with radionuclides to simulate real-world scenarios where radionuclides are present in soil and water. Throughout the study, researchers monitored how the fungi interacted with radionuclides and measured their uptake, assessing how these interactions affected the stability and mobility of the particles. 

The study’s results showed that halophilic fungi can absorb radionuclides from their surroundings and stabilize them within their fungal cells. This stabilization process significantly reduces the radionuclides’ potential to cause harm and makes them less likely to spread through the environment and contaminate other areas or living organisms (1).

Fungi as a means of bioremediation

Using fungi to clean up contaminants isn’t anything new. While fungi are typically thought of as organisms that break down organic matter, they can also absorb and store toxins, heavy metals, and even radiation. This ability is referred to as mycoremediation, a form of bioremediation that uses microbes like fungi to remove or neutralize pollutants from a contaminated area. 

For instance, many types of fungi can use radiation as a source of energy. Following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the first organism found to grow in the contaminated area was a species of black fungus called Caldosporium sphaerospermum. These fungi not only tolerated extreme nuclear conditions but also thrived on their diet of radioactive remains. Radiotrophic fungi have been successfully used to clean up radiation-contaminated areas.

Although the study never examined the mechanisms behind the halophilic fungi’s ability to sequester radionuclides, it is unlikely that the fungi directly feed on radiation like radiotrophic fungi do. Instead, their effectiveness in absorbing the contamination is probably due to their unique cellular structure and biochemical processes, which allow them to survive in harsh saline environments. These mechanisms could allow the fungi to effectively bind and stabilize contaminants within their cells without causing any harm to themselves.

Moving forward, the integration of mycoremediation techniques into environmental management strategies could revolutionize how we address nuclear contamination. However, more research will be needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind the capabilities of halophilic fungi and how to use their sequestration abilities on a more widespread scale.

References

  1. Azam, T, I Ali, X Chen, and I Iqbal. 2024. “Bacteria Were Unable to Tolerate the Radionuclides, While the Halophilic Fungi Tolerated and Efficiently Remediated Them.” International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology (Tehran), March. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13762-024-05519-6.

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science
Seraiah Alexander

Seraiah Alexander

Content Editor

Table Of Contents

1
How fungi absorb radionuclides
2
Fungi as a means of bioremediation
3
References

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