Chernobyl Disaster Fungus That Eats Radiation May One Day Protect Early Mars Inhabitants

Called Cryptococcus neoformans fungi, this type of fungus was found growing inside the buildings of the Chernobyl disaster, and it one day could help protect humans from radiation on Mars as well as space travel. It was discovered in 1991, five years after the disaster, and it survives by feeding on radiation due to its high melanin content, a pigment found in skin which turns it dark.

What makes the fungus great is that you only need a few grams to start out. It self-replicates and self-heals, so even if there’s a solar flare that damages the radiation shield significantly, it will be able to grow back in a few days,” said Nils Averesch, Stanford researcher and study co-author.

Its immense melanin levels absorb the toxic radiation and turns it into chemical energy, similar to how plants convert carbon dioxide and chlorophyll into oxygen and glucose via photosynthesis. However, this process is called radiosynthesis and scientists believe it could be used to benefit humans. They’re currently running experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) to see how the fungi reacts to radiation from space, and so far, the results appear to be positive. By applying this fungi to future spacecraft as well as Mars settlements, it could absorb most of the harmful radiation and protect humans.

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