26 May 2007

Welcome, our rightful heirs

The sensationalist headline of the article: Hungry fungi chomp on radiation, accompanied by a clueless subtitle: Common pigment may allow bizarre feeding habits, gives one a view on our possible successors.

From plastic to asbestos, cardboard to jet fuel, fungi will eat just about anything. Now researchers have found another dish in the fungal diet: radiation. Not radioactive compounds, which have long been known to be on the menu — radiation itself.

Ekaterina Dadachova and her colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have discovered that some fungi can use a molecule called melanin, a pigment also found in human skin, to harvest the energy from radiation and use it for growth.
Here they are, in all their unassuming simplicity:

These folks, feeble-minded at the moment, are managing perfectly well, thank you, in places which we tend to avoid.
Since the 1986 meltdown, at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station, the numbers of 'black fungi', rich in melanin, have risen steeply. Casadevall speculated that the fungi could be feeding on the radiation that contaminates the ruin of the nuclear reactor.
In the best tradition of black prophecy, so beloved by the science fiction writers of the sixties and the seventies, we can state with a good level of certainty that our heirs to that real estate of ever dwindling value are here. Waiting on the sidelines to take over and to start the long process of clean up and recovery.

Yes, they are simple now, but so what? Looking at a politician who can be motivated to respond only by a sight of a pork barrel, I am quite sure that these new folks will be able to start a civilization of their own.

Without iPods for a few million years...