Mushrooms: everybody’s favorite quirk of nature. From the psychedelic genus psilocybe and the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis that “mind control” ants, to the mushrooms that clean up oil spills and the mushrooms that may serve as planetary habitats, researchers have found yet another use for fungi: radiation protection.
“The greatest hazard for humans on deep-space exploration missions is radiation,” says a preliminary report in the bioRxiv journal. “Certain fungi thrive in high-radiation environments on Earth, such as the contamination radius of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant… These organisms appear to perform radiosynthesis, using pigments known as melanin to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy. It is hypothesized that these organisms can be employed as a radiation shield to protect other lifeforms.”
Radiosynthesis runs parallel to photosynthesis — but instead of eating sunlight (UV radiation), these shrooms are eating gamma radiation. And it’s all possible through melanin, the same pigment that determines hair and skin color.
What do arctic ground squirrels and black bears have in common? They’re both among the many animals that hibernate.
Except, hibernation isn’t just a long nap through the cold, dreary winter months. It’s a highly-regulated form of energy conservation that impacts how the brain and body function, says Kelly Drew, a University of Alaska professor and CEO of Be Cool Pharmaceutics.
So, what can we learn from hibernation and what might happen if we humans were to give it a try?
NASA’s Launch Services Program is blasting off three missions this year, reaching beyond our atmosphere to study the sun, Mars, and the ocean.
These missions will provide revelations about the centerpiece of our solar system, address questions critical to planning for human expeditions of the Red Planet, and shed insight on the earth’s rising sea levels.