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NASA Space Science

NASA Is Studying the Fungus Among Us Before Humans Take It To a New Planet (fastcompany.com) 60

From a new report: As humanity starts packing for a trip to Mars, NASA scientists are studying what not to bring along for the journey. In short, leave the fungus at home. NASA researchers created a closed habitat -- similar to where humans would have to live to survive long space travel or on a new planet -- and looked at fungi and how they grew, publishing their findings in the journal Microbiome. Fungi are "extremophiles" that can survive in the harshest conditions, but in the closed environment of a space station, they can wreak havoc. To see exactly what kind of fungi might colonize astronauts while they colonize Mars, researchers set up an Inflatable Lunar/Mars Analog Habitat, which simulates the closed environment of the International Space Station. They found that certain kinds of fungi increased in number while humans were living inside the habitat, and the weakened immune systems that come with living in a bubble make people more vulnerable to fungi.
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NASA Is Studying the Fungus Among Us Before Humans Take It To a New Planet

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  • Come On! (Score:3, Funny)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2017 @06:53PM (#54789861) Journal

    Come on, that's no way to talk about Donald Trump Jr!

    (I know I know, flamebait and off topic, but you only live once)

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2017 @06:55PM (#54789879) Journal

    Contamination risk in both directions is too high. A thorough automated or heavily quarantined survey of Mars' possible life will be needed before humans land. We have to be pretty damned sure there's no life on Mars before we risk ruining what's there. That's a lot of digging and sifting and lab work, possibly costing more than a human mission itself.

    • That's exactly what ESA's ExoMars [wikipedia.org] mission will do.

      • by slick7 ( 1703596 )
        Humans are the most virulent form of disease. We've done more damage to this planet, as well as to ourselves, than any other sentient being. No wonder no other beings will openly communicate with us; barring those that see us as part of the food chain.
        • Not that you can trouble yourself to identify the other sentient beings that have the ability to communicate with us but are choosing not to. Because that would mean more typing to back up your extravagant assertion.
        • Humans are the most virulent form of disease.

          Meet the cure. [youtube.com]

        • Humans are the most virulent form of disease. We've done more damage to this planet, as well as to ourselves, than any other sentient being. No wonder no other beings will openly communicate with us; barring those that see us as part of the food chain.

          Another emotional response with pretensions of depth. Someone call the wambulance.

    • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2017 @07:09PM (#54789961)

      Or did you miss the recent article that Mars is inherently self-sterilizing [newsweek.com]?

      If anything we can now me less careful about what we send to Mars, so it's easier to explore.

      • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2017 @07:21PM (#54790017) Journal

        It's self-sterilizing if we assume that life on Mars couldn't have found a way to deal with perchlorates. Extremophiles here on Earth demonstrate that life can evolve to survive in some pretty inhospitable and outright toxic environments.

        • It's self-sterilizing if we assume that life on Mars couldn't have found a way to deal with perchlorates.

          I'm not saying anything about the possibility of finding life there, I still think we'll find some - I'm just saying it means we really don't have to be as careful about every single spacecraft part that lands of Mars being totally sterile, because the *Earth* forms of life will not be able to survive for long there so they can't contaminate Mars.

          Until now every single spacecraft that has been intended t

        • I'd have to agree - it would be hugely arrogant to assume Mars is devoid of life, just because we've got some ideas about a few things we've observed from outside Mars. Once we've done a proper survey of every nook and cranny, cave and hole, then maybe we can say it, but until then not so much. We can't predict everything we find on earth, and so how could we do it for a planet of which we have a relatively minuscule understanding?

          I'd imagine the solution would be the sort of walk-in space suits Nasa were d

        • It's self-sterilizing if we assume that life on Mars couldn't have found a way to deal with perchlorates. Extremophiles here on Earth demonstrate that life can evolve to survive in some pretty inhospitable and outright toxic environments.

          So you think a delicate life form which has spent millions of years to adapt to a perchlorates chemical environment (again, theoretically possible given the extremophiles on Earth) in an extremely cold climate (water frozen most of the time), etc. would thrive magnificiently inside a moist water-based 37 C (~100 F ?) body ?!?

          News flash: Your direct environment right here on Earth (like the dirt outside your house) is filled with countless species of bacteria which have adapted to it, and none of which bothe

        • Generally not multiple extreme insults at such a high level though, on a time frame relevant to us for contaminating mars. The article SuperKendal linked to mentions perchlorates are activated by the high UV found on mars, and could kill bacteria within 30 seconds. And it sounds like that was just the effects of the activated perchlorates, not the UV too.

          Polyextremophiles are rarer than single extremophiles. D Radiodurans [wikipedia.org] for example can survive in high radiation, extreme cold, vaccum, and high acidity.
          • If we assume that there was a time when Mars was far more hospitable (and it's not a big leap, considering we know that it must have once had a denser atmosphere, shallow seas and was considerably more geologically active), we can imagine life evolving there. When conditions began to deteriorate as the atmosphere thinned and the planet basically froze up, it would probably have lead to mass extinctions, but possibly not universal extinction. Unless the change in conditions was extremely rapid, it would have

            • Sure, but we were talking about cross contamination. I think the environments are different enough to make that unlikely to happen is what I'm saying.

              It's of course not a simple scale of "tough life" vs "easy life" where life adapted to the conditions on mars is going to be extremely strong in earth's environment. Mars life would die on earth as rapidly as earth life would die on mars.
        • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

          Extremophiles here on Earth demonstrate that life can evolve to survive in some pretty inhospitable and outright toxic environments.

          "Toxic" can be relative. When photosynthesis got into high gear on Earth, at first a waste product, oxygen, was absorbed into the rocks. However, the rocks got saturated and the oxygen levels spiked in the atmosphere. Most microbes found oxygen toxic and died off.

          But a niche group learned to live with it, then incorporate it into their metabolism, and eventually even learned to

    • by jezwel ( 2451108 )
      How difficult is it going to be to declare Mars life-form free and therefore colonisable by humans? Even now we're discovery life in weird / harsh habitats on earth, so categorically declaring Mars a dead world would mean checking a sizeable portion of the planet, and down several inches or more of regolith as well.
      We will take life to Mars, and it will find a niche somewhere - guaranteed. Lichen, fungi, bacteria, something.
  • Almost destroyed MIR (Score:5, Informative)

    by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2017 @07:08PM (#54789953) Homepage

    The Russian station, MIR, was almost over-run by fungus. http://rense.com/general8/mir.... [rense.com]

    It was mutated by radiation and almost un-killable. Note that MIR was de-orbited and not all pieces burned up completely.

    Yes, that's right, somewhere in the world, there might exist a colony of mutant space fungus that the Russians tried and failed to kill.

    • Can't beat them, use them. The "filamentous fungus Aspergillus fumigatus", can it be re-jiggered, MacGyver-like, to create longer, harder, stronger Daft Punk-like fibers to weave into clothing, or furniture? Humans have evolved with fungi. Will removing them have unintended consequences?
    • Soviets, not Russians. There's a big difference.
      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        Only a little.

        • Uh, no? The Soviet Union was an empire, Russia is a country. I'm more than a little surprised to see Leftists, of all people, banging the drums for war with Russia. Hell, you were on their side until recently. What caused the big change? And don't say alleged election meddling because Obama attempted to alter the result of Brexit and you were all for that.
    • by hawkfish ( 8978 )

      The Russian station, MIR, was almost over-run by fungus. http://rense.com/general8/mir.... [rense.com]

      It was mutated by radiation and almost un-killable. Note that MIR was de-orbited and not all pieces burned up completely.

      Yes, that's right, somewhere in the world, there might exist a colony of mutant space fungus that the Russians tried and failed to kill.

      I just finished Geoffrey Landis' Mars Crossing in which the first American mission to Mars was taken out by athlete's foot. I thought it was a bit too tongue in cheek but now I'm worried.

  • Yeasts? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gtwrek ( 208688 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2017 @07:15PM (#54789991)

    Pretty sure the article doesn't conclude "In short, leave the fungus at home". That's way too broad a generalization. (And while I'm not a microbiologist, I don't think even remotely possible).

    In any event, who'd want to go to Mars without a good source of one's favorite beverage? Or bread? Beer/Wine/Bread and many other our favorite food and drinks all
    depend on yeasts, which are in the fungus family.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In any event, who'd want to go to Mars without a good source of one's favorite beverage? Or bread?

      Try something more essential, like the several pounds of symbiotic yeasts and bacteria humans need to have in their guts. We won't survive without them...

  • by IonOtter ( 629215 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2017 @07:20PM (#54790011) Homepage

    This is very serious problem in deep diving habitats and environments. The constant moisture, combined with limited mobility and super-saturation of oxygen means that Athlete's Foot grows at a fantastic rate.

    Divers living in those habitats have to devote a significant amount of time to scrubbing, cleaning, drying and powdering their feet, or fungal infections will get out of control very rapidly.

  • The futuristic, sentient Fungi overlords of the planet Keppler 452b will unlikely remember the hominoid space travelers who deposited their life forms on a planet with a very hospitable environment.
  • I saw a documentary where they were growing potatoes in Mars in shit. Whatever happened to that project, I wonder.
  • This story is so depressing about a fun guy? Fun gi Fungi Fuge.

  • John Leguizamo as Luigi Mario
    Super Mario Bros. The movie

  • Life and Evolution are working as they should..

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