Chernobyl Fungi Headed To Space Station

According to Russia’s Cosmonautics News, fungus samples taken from the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster site are in for a long ride. Some samples of the fungus, said Nuclear Engineering International, will be taken into outer space for a trip to the International Space Station, where it will be the subject of some zero-gravity experiments.

International Space StationThree fungi have been invited for the trip: Cladosporium sphaerospermum, Wangiella dermatitidis and Cryptococcus neoformans. Each of them were found thriving on the walls at Chernobyl, despite being subjected to an environment with 500 times the normal amount of ambient radiation.

The fungi, essentially, feasted on gamma radiation, transforming gamma energy into chemical energy, much in the same way a plant makes use of chlorophyll to convert sunshine into glucose and oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. Fungi that create chemical energy from gamma radiation are said to use the process called radiostimulation or radiosynthesis.

There are two potential applications of this process that are under study. First, radiosynthesis could be used to reduce radiation in some environments, making those environments safer for humans. Secondly, the process could be used for storing energy in a manner that would be a “biological alternative to solar panels,” according to NEI.

The fungi might be useful as part of a system of protecting people undergoing radiation treatments or used directly as gamma ray protection, useful for people exposed to such radiation in outer space. Some of the melanin from the fungi is already at the Space Station, where tests are being conducted to see if it could be used as a kind of an “anti-radiation” type of sun block, experts say.

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