The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Can radiation be used to increase crop yields?

radioactive mushroom or fungus

When I was a kid I saw an episode of Gilligan's island where some radioactive seeds washed ashore and they grew extra large vegetables as a result. The carrots provided super enhanced vision and the spinach gave the Skipper super strong muscles.

Parts of this concept might not be as crazy as it sounds. In 1999 a robot was sent into the Chernobyl reactor to map the building and found a black fungus that was somehow thriving in the toxic environment. Some speculation suggests that the fungi have an unknown mechanism that can use the energy radiated for growth.

Image credit goes to via a post from the Boing Boing blog and the blue mushroom image is thanks to

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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It's called photosynthesis. :-)

Although most plants use only visible light (some use infrared?), it shouldn't come as a surprise that in an environment like the Chernobyl sacrophagus (low in visible light but filled with other wavelengths) an organism that can use those other wavelengths will eventually take hold. In a sense, it is just evolution at work.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sat May 14 17:32:53 2011

Great point. :-)

Of course, fungi don't photosynthesize, but I guess it's possible that they can take advantage of some sort of radiation.

Comment by anna Sun May 15 15:02:08 2011

The team looked to the example of photosynthesis as a model, said Casadevall. If plants can use the green pigment, chlorophyll, to absorb energy from the Sun and produce a usable form of chemical energy, they reasoned, fungi might be able to use their melanin pigment and radiation energy in a similar way. They even devised the snazzy moniker, 'radiosynthesis', for the process.

Casadevall himself agrees. "We have not ruled out all other explanations – science is always cautious. [But] our leading hypothesis continues to be that melanin captures the energy from radiation and transforms it into energy for growth."

Comment by mark Sun May 15 18:00:32 2011

I to remember that episode on Gilligan's Island...I however remember the "budget" corn...with the skipper saying ...its making both end meet.

Alternative biological metabolism is not that much science fiction...look at the chemotrophs that live at the bottom of the ocean near volcanic vents...pitch dark, hot as hell, and ripe with Sulfur compounds.

Comment by moontree ranch Mon May 16 09:40:19 2011
Gilligan's Island photo montage Marry Ann Giligan

Don't remember the budget corn, but it's been a while since the late 1970's.

What stuck with me the most at that age was the power of bamboo and coconuts. The professor seemed to be able to make just about anything he needed with a few coconuts, maybe 2 feet of jungle vine and some bamboo.

One thing that bothered me was how long the batteries seemed to last on their portable radio...although I do remember an episode where they made some batteries from coconut shells filled with salt water being stirred by each member but that was in the latter seasons.

Image credit goes to Youtube user smustryder. Check out his or her awesome and haunting rendition of the Gilligan's Island theme song set to the pace of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven.

Comment by mark Mon May 16 14:52:02 2011

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