In the 1990s, years after the fateful Chernobyl accident, scientists discovered the large number of fungi that could proliferate in the area despite radiation. This is how we were better able to understand how some fungi can grow by “radiosynthesis” rather than photosynthesis. If they absorb radiation to grow, does that mean they also protect from radiation? New research on the ISS has shown that this is indeed the case, which may make them an ideal candidate to protect us on the ground and in space.

Space is a harmful place for humans, since the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field protect us from different radiations to which our planet is continuously exposed. The suits and different layers of protection in the ships have made it possible to deal with this, although as always everything is susceptible to improvement and in this nature gives us a new master class. And if for this we cultivate a hong “that feeds on that radiation, which we believed incompatible with life?

In a research published in bioRxiv and pending review, it is detailed how a series of experiments on the International Space Station with this fungus has allowed to prove its effectiveness against radiation. The researchers grew the Cladosporium sphaerospermum fungus in a Petri dish on the ISS to see how it develops thanks to radiation and, above all, how much it is capable of absorbing.

Cladosporium sphaerospermum grows especially in radioactive environments, such as the cooling pools of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, where radiation levels are significantly higher than in normal environments. The body is capable of converting radioactive energy into chemical energy thanks to the melanin pigments in its cell walls. At the same time, this melanin allows you to protect yourself from the harmful effects of radiation.


Evolution of the Petri dish and the growth of the fungus in space during the first 48 hours. Via bioRxiv.

In the tests carried out, a Petri dish was divided in half with one side empty and the other filled with the fungus. During 30 days the growth of the fungus was studied and the radiation present was measured every 110 seconds with a Geiger counter. According to the results, the fungus adapted to microgravity without problems and had no problems with incoming radiation. With a 1.7 millimeter thick layer of mushroom, it was able to block between 1.82% to 5.04% of the radiation. They calculate that with a thickness of about 21 centimeters the layer of fungus could serve as a “radioactive shield”.

The main advantage of the fungus over other materials as a radioactive shield

Its ease of transport. As simple as that. The great difficulty in creating a settlement in space is the amount of materials that have to be transported, which is why alternatives that are already available in the place are always sought, such as rocks on Mars. To create this protective shield from radiation in a settlement in space, you would simply have to transport a small sample and grow it there directly. They indicate that it is a self-sufficient and self-replicating substrate capable of living on even the smallest doses of radiation and biomass.

More testing needs to be done at the moment and this research needs to be peer-reviewed, but the results are promising. Its ease of transport and maintenance make it an ideal candidate for creating those radiation shields.


Source Xataka