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Curr Opin Microbiol. 2008 Dec;11(6):525-31. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2008.09.013. Epub 2008 Oct 24.

Ionizing radiation: how fungi cope, adapt, and exploit with the help of melanin.

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  • 1Department of Nuclear Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1695A Eastchester Road, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.


Life on Earth has always existed in the flux of ionizing radiation. However, fungi seem to interact with the ionizing radiation differently from other inhabitants of the Earth. Recent data show that melanized fungal species like those from Chernobyl's reactor respond to ionizing radiation with enhanced growth. Fungi colonize space stations and adapt morphologically to extreme conditions. Radiation exposure causes upregulation of many key genes, and an inducible microhomology-mediated recombination pathway could be a potential mechanism of adaptive evolution in eukaryotes. The discovery of melanized organisms in high radiation environments, the space stations, Antarctic mountains, and in the reactor cooling water combined with phenomenon of 'radiotropism' raises the tantalizing possibility that melanins have functions analogous to other energy harvesting pigments such as chlorophylls.

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