Radiosynthesis (metabolism)

Radiosynthesis is the theorized capture and metabolism, by living organisms, of energy from ionizing radiation, analogously to photosynthesis. Metabolism of ionizing radiation was theorized as early as 1956 by the Russian S. I. Kuznetsov.[1]

Beginning in the 1990s, researchers at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant uncovered some 200 species of apparently radiotrophic fungi containing the pigment melanin on the walls of the reactor room and in the surrounding soil.[2][3] Such "melanized" fungi have also been discovered in nutrient-poor, high-altitude areas which are exposed to high levels of ultraviolet radiation.[4]

Following the Russian results, an American team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York began experimenting with radiation exposure of melanin and melanized fungi. They found that ionizing radiation increased the ability of melanin to support an important metabolic reaction, and that Cryptococcus neoformans fungi grew three times faster than normal.[5][4] Microbiologist Ekaterina Dadachova suggested such fungi could serve as a food supply and source of radiation protection for interplanetary astronauts, who would be exposed to cosmic rays.[4]

In 2014, the American research group was awarded a patent for a method of enhancing the growth of microorganisms through increasing melanin content. The inventors of this process claimed their fungi were employing radiosynthesis, and hypothesized that radiosynthesis may have played a role in early life on Earth, by allowing melanized fungi to act as autotrophs.[6]


  1. Kuznetsov, S. I. (March 1, 1956). "On the Question of Possibility of "Radiosynthesis"". Mikrobiologiya (in Russian). OSTI 4367507.
  2. Zhdanova, N. N.; Vasilevskaya, A.I.; Artyshkova, L. V.; Sadovnikov, Y. S.; Lashko, T. N.; Gavrilyuk, V. I.; Dighton, J. (July 1994). "Changes in micromycete communities in soil in response to pollution by long-lived radionuclides emitted in the Chernobyl accident". Mycological Research. 98 (7): 789–795. doi:10.1016/S0953-7562(09)81057-5.
  3. Zhdanova, Nelli N.; Tugay, Tatyana; Dighton, John; Zheltonozhsky, Victor; Mcdermott, Patrick (September 2004). "Ionizing radiation attracts soil fungi". Mycological Research. 108 (9): 1089–1096. doi:10.1017/S0953756204000966. PMID 15506020.
  4. Balter, Michael (May 23, 2007). "Zapped By Radiation, Fungi Flourish". Science. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  5. Dadachova, Ekaterina; Bryan, Ruth A.; Huang, Xianchun; Moadel, Tiffany; Schweitzer, Andrew D.; Aisen, Philip; Nosanchuk, Joshua D.; Casadevall, Arturo (May 23, 2007). "Ionizing Radiation Changes the Electronic Properties of Melanin and Enhances the Growth of Melanized Fungi". PLOS ONE. 2 (5): e457. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000457. PMC 1866175. PMID 17520016.
  6. B2 US patent 8652827 B2, Dadachova, Ekaterina; Bryan, Ruth; Casadevall, Arturo, "Radiosynthesis as an alternative energy utilization process in melanized organisms and uses thereof", published February 18, 2014, assigned to Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University
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