Extreme fungus from Chernobyl under study for use in protective shields against space radiation

Scientists have theorised that these organisms could serve as radiation shields for future astronauts on long-distance missions.

Several species of mould have been thriving on the Chernobyl nuclear reactor despite it hosting a large amount of toxic radiation, 45 years after one of the worst-known nuclear accidents in history. The mould that was found in the area has not only been staying alive, but is feeding off of the radiation to grow.

Scientists are now planning to use one of these species to build a protection layer for manned space missions in the future.

Space is not a very welcoming place for human beings. There is a spectrum of different radiation that all living organisms are exposed to as soon as we leave the protective bubble of Earth's atmosphere. Hence, if long-time stay in the outer space is being considered – for instance, the upcoming Artemis mission to the moon, the threat of cancer and other diseases is looming over astronauts.

The International Space Station the only space station still in use.

The International Space Station the only space station still in use.

Scientists need to think of a protective measure for astronauts before sending them for extended stay in the space. The Chernobyl mould was shown as capable of absorbing cosmic rays on the International Space Station (ISS) and so, scientists think, could be re-engineered to protect human beings from the threats.

Three researchers studied one of the species found in Chernobyl called the Cladosporium sphaerospermum and analysed its ability to block radiation. The study and the findings are under peer review currently and has been published in the preprint biology research server bioRxiv.

The fungi were placed in the ISS for 30 days and even managed to decrease radiation levels by nearly 2 percent. In a process known as 'radiosynthesis', the fungi was found to "convert gamma-radiation into chemical energy" using a pigment called melanin.

Scientists are hence theorising that these organisms may be able to serve as "radiation shield" for other lifeforms, including and especially future astronauts.

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