Depleted uranium (DU) from spent ammunition used in the conflicts in Iraq and the Balkans poses a health risk to the inhabitants of those regions. This paper in Current Biology from Marina Fomina et al shows that several species of fungi including one from the mycorrhizal genus Rhizopogon (a favorite subject of study for our neighbors in the Bruns lab) are capable of sequestering DU into a less mobile mineral form.
Also picked up by the BBC.
An article in Applied Environmental Biology describes work characterizing microorganisms that degrade materials used to preserve cultural heritage objects. These are some heavy duty synthetic compounds which are commonly used to preserve or treat wood, cover objects to protect them from moisture, light, and avoid direct attack by microbes. This article describes some interesting findings of the types of organisms that attack these preservation materials. Table 1 lists fungi like Aureobasidium pullulans which can degrade Polyvinyl chloride, Chaetomium globosum which has enzymes (someone make sure and describe all of these in the genome sequence) to dissolve Polyurethane, several wood degrading fungi that break down Nylon (Phanerochaete can break down diesel fuel), and melanin producing fungi (like Cryptococcus?) that destroy acrylics.
A recent paper in PLoS One entitled Ionizing Radiation Changes the Electronic Properties of Melanin and Enhances the Growth of Melanized Fungi describes some pretty amazing results that have gotten some press lately. The lead author, Dr Dadachova, spoke on NPR’s Science Friday last week about how melanized fungi are able to use ionizing radiation for energy as seen in the enhanced growth in their experiments.
While this is the first report of such as result, the fact that innovation occurs wherever there is free energy is not surprising. As mentioned by Arturo Casadevall this story in the spring when he was gave a seminar at Berkeley, marine organisms that live near undersea hydrothermal vents have been able to photosynthesize the infrared light emitted from the vent. He discussed the radiation utilization of melanized fungal work at the end of his talk, and said that it has been an epic process to get it published — that this work had been in review for four years at several high profile journals, but I guess that it was controversial enough to not be accepted there. I guess Nature and Science get it now since they wrote news briefs…