Radioautotrophic fungi: Cladosporium sphaerospermum

Konstantakopoulos Efstathios, Pefanis Dimitrios (editors), Tsimbouki Vasiliki (drawing)

(Radioautotrophic fungi – a nuclear story: original drawing by Vasiliki Tsimbouki)

It is true that many research centers around the globe are keen on finding
peculiar and perspective species on earth. Undoubtedly, there happen to be a plethora
of species out there that possess certain abilities which extend to even impossible. Some
are able to withstand even the most adverse conditions; others can play a major role in
processes of special interest like recycling and so on. Nevertheless, what intrigued us
the most is the so called radioautotrophic fungi, such as Cladosporium
sphaerospermum, a mold forming type of fungi. This marvel of nature was first found
thriving inside the notorious fourth nuclear reactor of Chernobyl. How remarkable!
Radioactivity, the very essence that utterly destroys tissues, breaks chromosomes and
therefore condemns mankind to death, offers these fungi an additional means of
ensuring survival through energy uptake. But how does it succeed that?
To begin with, all radioautotrophic fungi contain a relatively high concentration
of melanin. As a result, they are able to absorb high quantities of radiation. But the
remarkable thing is that they do not just absorb it to avoid its catastrophic results, as
the case is for UV radiation for us, humans. They use ionizing radiation in order to
compose their own food and spur their growth. Since melanin and radiation are
beneficial for their life cycle, they do not just survive but also thrive in extreme
environments (soils contaminated with radionuclides, etc), expressing a tropism called
radiotropism.
It is evident that such characteristics are a great promise, since dealing with
nuclear accidents and the catastrophic results of radiation to humans has been a
priority for the past half century. Remediation of contaminated areas is usually
approached by phytoremediation. Consequently, radioautotrophic fungi could purge
radiologically contaminated areas and possibly make places such as Chernobyl and
Fukushima habitable again. In conclusion, Cladosporium sphaerospermum (as all
radioautotrophic fungi) can fill humanity with new hopes of making things right
concerning actions which seemed unredeemable, such as the use of nuclear energy or
nuclear accidents. It is indeed an admirable and at the same time truly strange species!

Sources of Information:

1. Dadachova, E., et al, (2007). Ionizing Radiation Changes the Electronic Properties of Melanin and
Enhances the Growth of Melanized Fungi. PLoS One.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000457
2. Zhdanova N.N., Zakharchenko V.A., Vember V.V., Nakonechnaya L.T., (2000) Fungi from
Chernobyl : mycobiota of the inner regions of the containment structures of the damaged nuclear
reactor. Mycol Res 104: 1421-1426
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0953756208615026
3. Moore,R.T., (2001). Hot fungi from Chernobyl. Mycologist, 15 (2). pp. 63–64
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269915X01800811
4. Dighton,J., Tugay, T., Zhdanova,N., (2008). Fungi and ionizing radiation from radionuclides. FEMS
Microbiol.Lett. 281(2) pp.109-120. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-6968.2008.01076.x
5. Do Fungi Feast on Radiation? https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/radiation-helps-
fungi-grow/
6. Chernobyl Fungus Feeds On Radiation
http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20070422222547data_trunc_sys.shtml
Too many questions for Milnesium tardigradum
Gerogiannis Argyris, Papapavlou Irene-Louiza, Chourpiliadi Charikleia (editors), Frysira
Dimitra (drawing and collage)

(Tardigrades in space: collage and drawing by Dimitra Frysira)

Scientists from all around the world have agreed that Tardigera, also known as
‘sea bears’, are among the most extraordinary living organisms on planet Earth.
Specifically, they are eight-legged minuscule animals that can survive in the most
extreme environments. Thus, their durability generates speculations about the
mechanisms that lie behind.
To start with, they can withstand both extremely low and high temperatures
[from -200 °C (-328 °F) to 151 °C (304 °F)]. Furthermore what makes these micro
animals so amazing is the fact that they can survive despite the lack of oxygen and
water, the two fundamental elements of life on Earth! Excessively high and low pressure
leaves them unaffected for quite a long time, while they can endure levels of X-ray
radiation of 1000 times the lethal human dose - how incredible?! Part of the explanation
for this ability was that their low water concentration provides fewer reactants for the
ionizing radiation. However, Tardigera, when hydrated, still remain highly resistant to
UV radiation in comparison to other animals, thanks to their ability to repair DNA
damage caused by this exposure. Last but not least, they are sustainable to noxious
chemicals and boiling alcohol.
What lies behind this comportment is a special process known as cryptobiosis. In
other words, their metabolic activities drop to minimum levels, which means
hibernation and this is described as a death-like state. There are many types of
cryptobiosis; the most common being the anhydrobiosis. In this state, the lack of water
forces them to curl up into a little ball called a tun. In the context of minimizing their
metabolic activities, a sugar known as trehalose replaces the water into the cells which
gives them the ability to be sustained for more than 5 years, or in exceptional cases even
longer, up to 100 years!
“Is this outer space?” a sea bear asked! Nevertheless, what intrigued us the most
and motivated us to study this creature is an experiment that took place in 2007, when
some Tardigrade species like Milnesium tardigradum were the first animals to survive
long enough in outer space. In addition, a 2016 study indicated that no genetic damage
was transferred through the next generations of these animals!
Why a terrestrial creature has the ability to survive in the harsh void of space??
Is it because life started somewhere else in the universe? These speculations may act as
a trigger for further search and understanding of our past. Nevertheless, given the fact
that humans are born with the ability of logical thinking and imagination, which
differentiates them from the rest of living beings, if they achieve to combine the
culturally developed wisdom with sea bears’ survival ability they could adjust in all
environments without destroying them! And this is strange and maybe hopeful too.

Sources of Information:
1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrade
2. http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/tardigrade/index.html
3. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Research/Tiny_animals_survive_exposur
e_to_space
4. Ingemar Jönsson,K., Schill, R., Rabbow, E., Rettberg, P., Harms-Ringdahl, M., 2016, The fate of the
TARDIS offspring: no intergenerational effects of space exposure, (2016). Zoological Journal of
the Linnean Society, 178 (4), 924–930, doi: 10.1111/zoj.12499
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/zoj.12499/abstract
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mopsechiniscus_franciscae
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gondwana
7. Tardigrades: Water bears in space: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/12855775
8. New water bear species found in Antarctica: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/new-water-
bear-species-found-antarctica
9. Image source (part of the collage):
http://www.livescience.com/images/i/000/043/752/original/tardigrade-111202-
02.jpg?interpolation=lanczos-none&fit=inside%7C660:*
How can you live forever? Become a jellyfish!

Papanikolaou Maria, Stathopoulou Maria (editors)

(Turritopsis dohrnii)

Life itself is considered one of the most extraordinary phenomena. What if I told
you that there is a jellyfish which cannot die from senescence? Turritopsis dohrnii is a 5
mm jellyfish living in the Mediterranean and in japanese seas. Once reaching adulthood
can take its cells back to childhood again and again. To be more specific, it goes into a
process called “transdifferentiation”, a form of genetic reprogramming, in which a
mature somatic cell of a late developmental stage (medusa) transforms into another
somatic cell of an earlier stage (polyp). This cycle can repeat itself not just once, and it
also may go on if the animal is exposed to danger. To put it in a few words, this jellyfish
is biologically immortal. However, it can still die from causes other than senescence,
such as an injury, disease or predation. Ironic, isn’t it?
One interesting implication is that research into these animals can serve medical
sectors such as disease research, drug design or regenerative medicine. On the other
hand, the anti-aging movement is a social movement devoted to eliminating or
reversing aging, or reducing its effects. Among its aims is to make anti-aging technology
accessible to the majority of people. Transhumanism is an international and intellectual
movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and making
widely available sophisticated technologies so as to greatly enhance human intellectual,
physical and psychological capacities. It is clear to us that it is of great importance to
pay attention to the ethics of this kind of research.
There are many things that we, humans, can do: eat, run, play, sing, but we
cannot revert to a younger version of ourselves. We, people, cannot overcome death but
one can say that Turritopsis dohrnii is able to literally bypass this inevitable fact and
this is why we consider it is the strangest species on Earth. If that tiny jellyfish can ‘win’
death itself, we surely believe doctors may find the elixir of life, too. Until then, if you
want to live forever, you should become a jellyfish!
Sources of Information and image:

1. Terms and taxonomy (Turritopsis spp, transdifferentiation, transhumanism):
https://en.wikipedia.org
2. Piraino,S., Boero, F., Aeschbach, B., Schmid, V., Reversing the Life Cycle: Medusae
Transforming into Polyps and Cell transdifferentiation in Turritopsis nutricula
(Cnidaria, Hydrozoa). The Biological Bulletin, 190(3): 302-312
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.2307/1543022
3. http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=117440
4. Ethics and discussion on the anti-aging movement: Institute for Ethics and Emerging
Technologies http://www.ieet.org/
5. Image source: http://static.boredpanda.com/blog/wp-content/uuuploads/immortal-
jellyfish-turritopsis-nutricula/immortal-jellyfish-turritopsis-nutricula-3.jpg

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