The type of fungus found at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was sent into space as part of a research project aimed at protecting astronauts from radiation during deep missions.
“The biggest threat to people on deep space missions is radiation,” the researchers explain in a summary of a document uploaded to bioRxiv’s pre-print server for biology. The fungus, which thrives in the Chernobyl area, appears to perform “radiosynthesis” using melanin to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy.
The effects of radiation are of particular concern for long-term space flights to places such as Mars.
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Researchers at Charlotte University in North Carolina, Stanford University and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics have developed a research project using the fungus Cladosporium sphaerospermum. The Petri dish containing the fungus was observed by astronauts at the International Space Station, Phys.org reports.
“The growth of Cladosporium sphaerospermum and its ability to block ionizing radiation over 30 days has been studied at the International Space Station (ISS) as an analogue of habitat on the surface of Mars,” the researchers explained in a summary published by bioRxiv. .
The study found that the fungus can be grown in space.
“By developing a subtle but simple experimental model implemented as a small payload, it could be shown that the melanized fungus C. sphaerospermum can be grown in LEO [Low Earth Orbit], despite the unique microgravity and radiation environment of CMS, ”the researchers wrote. “Growth characteristics also show that the fungus not only adapts to cosmic radiation, but thrives on and protects against it, based on analogous Earth studies.”
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Other groundbreaking research is underway into the Chernobyl disaster.
Earlier this year, for example, researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK announced the development of materials they said could be used to help decommission nuclear reactors at Chernobyl and the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. The materials, developed in collaboration with Ukrainian scientists, could mimic lava-like fuel-containing materials (LFCMs) that are hampering the cessation of nuclear disaster sites, the researchers say.
“LFCM is a mixture of highly radioactive molten nuclear fuel and construction materials that fuses during nuclear fusion,” the researchers explained in a statement. However, there are very few examples of hazardous materials for the study, so the simulated material could help scientists plan future decommissioning efforts at nuclear facilities.
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The study was published in the journal Nature Materials Degradation.
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