A type of fungus found at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was launched into space in a research project aimed at protecting astronauts from radiation during deep space missions.
“The greatest danger to humans on exploration missions deep in space is radiation,” the researchers explain in a summary of a paper uploaded to the bioRxiv repression server for biology. The fungus, which blooms at the Chernobyl site, appears to perform “radioynthesis” with melanin to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy.
The effect of radiation is a particular problem for long-haul space flights to places like Mars.
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Researchers from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, Stanford University and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics set up the research project, which used the fungus Cladosporium sphaerospermum. A petri dish containing the sponge was monitored by astronauts on the International Space Station, according to Phys.org.
“The growth of Cladosporium sphaerospermum and its ability to attenuate ionizing radiation was studied aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for a period of 30 days, as an analogue to buildings on the surface of Mars,” explained researchers in the abstract published in bioRxiv.
The study found that the fungus can be grown in space.
“By designing a subtle yet simple experimental installation, implemented as a small single payload, it could be shown that the melanized fungus C. sphaerospermum can be grown in LEO [Low Earth Orbit]while they are subject to the ISS ‘unique microgravity and radiation environment, ”the researchers wrote. “Growth properties further indicated that the fungus not only adapts to but thrives and protects against space radiation, in accordance with analogous soil-based studies.”
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Other innovative research related to the Chernobyl disaster is taking place.
Earlier this year, for example, researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK announced the development of materials that they say could be used to help decommission the Chernobyl nuclear reactor sites and the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. The materials, developed with researchers in Ukraine, can simulate the Lava-like fuel-containing materials (LFCM) that prevent decommissioning efforts at nuclear power plants, the researchers say.
“LFCMs are a mixture of highly radioactive molten nuclear fuel and building materials that fuse during nuclear fouling,” the researchers explained in a statement. However, very few samples of the hazardous material are available for study, so the simulated material can help researchers plan future decommissioning efforts at nuclear power plants.
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The research is published in the journal Nature Materials Degradation.
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