Friday, May 25, 2007

Photosynthetic synchronicity

While I was writing the post yesterday about the ubiquity of photosynthetic pigments, news came in of a new mechanism for energy capture by a pigment. Fungi containing the pigment melanin appear to be able to use ionizing radiation to give themselves an energy boost.
News-Medical Net reports: [T]wo types of fungi--one that was induced to make melanin (Crytococcus neoformans) and another that naturally contains it (Wangiella dermatitidis), were exposed to levels of ionizing radiation approximately 500 times higher than background levels. Both species grew significantly faster (as measured by the number of colony forming units and dry weight) than when exposed to standard background radiation.
Fungi were found living inside the reactor building at Chernobyl. The article speculates that human skin melanin may be able to use radiation the same way, though I suspect that the body behind the pigment may not be happy to receive the stray radiation the melanin doesn't catch.
Dr. Casadevall notes that the melanin in fungi is no different chemically from the melanin in our skin. "It's pure speculation but not outside the realm of possibility that melanin could be providing energy to skin cells," he says. "While it wouldn't be enough energy to fuel a run on the beach, maybe it could help you to open an eyelid."

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