As we inch ever-closer to nuclear apocalypse, there may be good news for the inevitable radioactive waste: Scientists have discovered that to stop contamination from spreading, the solution could be as simple as yeast.
In a study published earlier this month, researchers discovered that yeasts are surprisingly capable of withstanding radioactive and acidic conditions, like those that would follow a nuclear detonation. A species of yeast called Rhodotorula taiwanensis can even form a type of shield, called a biofilm, to stop radioactivity from spreading. The reddish fungus — which Popular Science dubs “hardcore yeast” — was originally found in an abandoned acid mine in Maryland, and it has even proved more effective in halting radioactive spread than a microbe that researchers nicknamed “Conan the Bacterium” for its resistance to radiation.
“The potential for yeast is enormous,” said the study’s co-author Michael Daly. He and other researchers are hoping to use their newfound fungal ally to stop the leakage of Cold War-era nuclear waste, which is stored at 120 sites around the country. The largest of these, the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington, houses more than 50 million gallons of nuclear byproduct — and has contaminated 10,000 football fields’ worth of soil since it was used to assemble the first atomic bombs during the Manhattan Project.
But with the mighty yeast on their side, these scientists are hopeful that they can contain the dangerous waste. Read more at Popular Science.