Michael Doser

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Michael Doser

The Brightly Glowing Ecological Niche

Thoiry, France

Pellia radiophilia, 2020, © Michael Doser

The space is unusual: empty, barren, dark. No self-respecting organism would venture there, for fear of perishing, starved. And yet, life leaves no leaf unturned in its quest for pristine and still unoccupied environments. Soft tendrils of existence are constantly probing for ways to survive the most extreme conditions, to tame their harsh surroundings, to flourish where others wither. Deinococcus radiodurans has shown the way, yet is merely a consummate survivor, fending off radiation’s ill effects, surviving where others can‘t.

Now add that trick to Pisum sativum’s or Avicennia marina’s ability to absorb and accumulate lead or mercury, and take the next step: to use the electrons kicked out by radiation from those heavy metals in their leaves instead of those from photosynthesis. Enveloping themselves in a dense, toxic metal shield, their offspring could transform any deadly radiation into a source of sustenance while at the same time using the same armor as protection.

This thus is the ecological niche to conquer: deep and humid underground fissures in granite, replete with a rich Radon atmosphere; the ancient water-logged Uranium concentrations of the Oklo reactor; and uncounted other, artificial, man-made oases, akin to an uninhabited archipelago of ephemeral deep sea smokers.