USask researchers find some fungi thrive in radiation, can be trained to sense it

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USask researchers train fungi to respond to radiation – Mar 13, 2020

Mushrooms are a staple in the culinary world and taste great in pasta, pizza, soup and many other dishes.

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) have taken fungi out of the kitchen and into the lab, studying how some species of fungi respond to radiation.

The team was lead by USask radiochemist Ekaterina Dadachova has spent the past fifteen years studying why some species of fungi can thrive and grow in radioactive conditions.

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“They can actually use that radiation for their benefit in their lifecycle. Basically, it helps them to get additional energy if they lack some nutrition,” Dadachova explained.

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Dadachova has spent the past three years working on a USask project funded by the U.S. Department of Defence, focusing on fungi containing melanin — the same pigment found in human skin and hair.

“When the fungus has melanin, it responds much better to the radiation rather than melanin deficient mutants,” team member and USask undergraduate biochemistry student Connor Frank said.

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The fungi were put on different plates and exposed to three different types of radiation — wave, gamma and alpha.

The fungi grew the most when exposed to alpha radiation. Researchers were hoping to see it grow towards the radiation source, but instead, it only grew at a faster rate.

During this process, the team realized the fungi could also be trained to detect radiation.

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“What we were able to find is that we’re able to train this fungus to sense radiation,” USask lab manager Mackenzie Malo said.

“We’re interested in how we could adapt that to something more useable but really what we want to know is why are they doing it.”

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Exposure to radiation can be detrimental to your health. More research needs to be done, but the results of this study could help with more practical applications in the future.

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“Hopefully being able to harness the power of melanin or even the fungus itself [could] improve outcomes for patients undergoing radiation or radiation therapy to reduce the dose and damage done to their bodies,” Frank said.

The findings also have the potential to help with radiation clean-up and could help protect people exposed to radiation, like soldiers and astronauts.

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