Role of melanin in radiation response and resistance in black fungi: Melanins are high molecular weight pigments, ubiquitous in nature, with a variety of biological functions. Melanized microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) inhabit some remarkably extreme environments and protect against environmental predators, heavy metals toxicity and physical insults such as UV and solar radiation. Most dramatically, melanized fungi colonize and grow towards a high constant radiation field, suggesting a role for melanin in radioprotection and energy transduction. We are currently conducting studies with multidisciplinary approaches to

  1. Understand molecular mechanisms of melanized microorganisms responding to ionizing radiation (functional genomics, proteomics and cell biology);
  2. Investigate potential of cell wall structure and components for radiation protection (biochemistry and material chemistry);
  3. Characterize redox and electrochemical properties of melanin in response to ionizing radiation (electrochemistry)

Such work is a prerequisite for harnessing these systems for enhanced protection of military and civilian personnel against ionizing radiation and energy transduction in radioactive environments.