Lichen, reindeer and Chernobyl

9/02/2006 06:59:00 pm

I was doing some micro revision today about fungi, which was really boring if I'm being honest. But as I was going through the info about lichen I was reminded of something about Chernobyl that I read a little while. It seems a bit of a strange link, I know, but the interesting thing here is about the way lichens obtain nutrients. Usually you see them growing on rocks and other similar surfaces that for most organisms would be inhospitable, but they are actually two organisms living in a symbiotic relationship. There is a fungi and a cyanobacterium or algae capable of producing energy via photosynthesis. Their nutrients come mainly from the air and surrounding moisture which is where the Chernobyl link comes in. Very 6 degrees of separation.

Since lichens obtain nutrients through absorption, when the radioactive cloud from the meltdown of the Chernobly reactor swept around the globe a few times, lichens in the north of Finland, Sweden and Norway, absorbed some of this radiation. These lichens are one of the major snacks of reindeer herds kept by the Sami of these regions, and so when the reindeer came along and nibbled on the lichens they were poisoned by the radiation. I thought that was quite sad really.

This is the twenty year anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, I wonder how much of the damage is yet to be seen?

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