Question: many SF stories (e.g. The Expanse) put living organisms in highly radioactive environments and show them consuming that energy in some way. How might organisms put into these environments be able to harness this freely available form of energy?

My background isn't biology so I don't know the whole answer but I know enough about radiation that I would assume the best candidates would be beta and alpha particles of lower energy. However, I'd like the answer to include discussions of other radiation forms:

  1. Alpha (Helium nuclei)
  2. Beta (electron)
  3. Gamma (high energy photon)
  4. proton (e.g. from solar wind)
  5. neutron (typically from reactors)
  6. fission products (high energy positively charged nuclei formed by splitting large nuclei)
  7. other (anything else you care to discuss such as antimatter, positrons, x-rays, cosmic rays, etc.)
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see any organic reature metabolising neutrons but for antimatter just make it made of the stuff $\endgroup$
    – Amoeba
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ That was my opinion too. Biology works by chemistry, so things like gamma and neutrons would be very hard or impossible to harness. But I don't know everything so I'm prepared to be surprised. :) $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ my old question worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/100749/… might help $\endgroup$
    – Amoeba
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


Some breeds of fungi are radiotrophic, metabolizing radiation. Mycologist Paul Stamets discusses them a lot in the context of depollution and forest remediation with various types of fungus. I'm not sure how this breaks down according to the hierarchy you presented, but apparently it works for decontamination of radioactive sites.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you maybe go into a bit more detail about radiotrophic fungi, and how they work? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a a link to any of his discussions? $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ If it was a community wiki, I would gladly fill out the holes. It's not, so all I say is that Wikipedia has a decent article about it, with sources. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiotrophic_fungus $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ permaculture.co.uk/articles/… $\endgroup$
    – yannicus
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ According the links, the mushrooms do not harvest nuclear radiation for energy. They concentrate the elements with the most harmful radioisotopes (e.g. cesium). $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 11:58

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