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The Chernobyl mushroom could protect astronauts from radiation during space missions



A species of fungus found at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was launched into a research project aimed at protecting astronauts from radiation during space missions.

“Radiation is the greatest danger to humans in space exploration missions,” the scientists explain in a summary of a paper that was uploaded to the BioRxiv preprint server for biology. The mushroom that grows at the Chernobyl site appears to be doing a “radiosynthesis” with melanin to convert gamma rays into chemical energy.

The influence of radiation is a particular problem with long-term space flights to places like Mars.

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Scientists from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, Stanford University and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics initiated the research project using the fungus Cladosporium sphaerospermum. A petri dish with the mushroom was monitored by astronauts on the International Space Station, according to Phys.org.

The number four reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant can be seen in this file photo dated December 2, 1986 after the work was completed to dig it in concrete after the explosion at the power plant.

The number four reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant can be seen in this file photo dated December 2, 1986 after the work was completed to dig it in concrete after the explosion at the power plant.
(Reuters)

“The growth of Cladosporium sphaerospermum and its ability to attenuate ionizing radiation was studied on board the International Space Station (ISS) over a period of 30 days as an analogy to the colonization of the surface of Mars,” the researchers explained in the summary published in bioRxiv.

The study found that the mushroom can be grown in space.

“The design of a subtle but simple experimental setup, which is implemented as a small payload, showed that the melanized fungus C. sphaerospermum can be cultivated in LEO [Low Earth Orbit]while they are subject to the unique microgravity and radiation environment of the ISS, ”wrote the researchers. “The growth characteristics also indicate that the fungus not only adapts to space radiation, but also thrives and protects it, according to analog earth-based studies.”

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Further innovative research related to the Chernobyl disaster is taking place.

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Sheffield in the UK announced the development of materials that they believe could contribute to the decommissioning of nuclear reactor sites in Chernobyl and the Fukushima plant in Japan. The materials, developed with scientists in Ukraine, can simulate the lava-like fuel-containing materials (LFCMs) that hamper decommissioning efforts at the nuclear disaster sites, the researchers say.

“LFCMs are a mixture of highly radioactive molten nuclear fuel and building materials that fuse together during a meltdown,” the researchers said in a statement. However, there are very few samples of the hazardous material available for investigation, so the simulated material could help scientists plan future decommissioning efforts at nuclear power plants.

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The research is published in the journal Nature Materials Degradation.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers




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