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Developing new methods for survival in space is a constant and ever-evolving process, and a well known Earthly organism has the potential for multiple applications within space’s unforgiving environment!

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Click the link in the description to get 25% off a Fabulous premium subscription! [♪ INTRO] Many people dream of a future in which humans explore and even live in space. New technologies, and even new materials, will definitely be required.

But, in our quest to explore the cosmos, we shouldn’t count out help from Mother Nature, because it has created a spectrum of life full of remarkable traits. And, even among those, few kinds of life are as diverse as fungi. Like, some of them even grow from radiation, and NASA is looking at those organisms to help solve our ultimate survival problems.

So let’s take a look at some of the fungus among us and how they are helping put us, humans, into outer space. Perhaps the most important challenge for our long-term habitation of space is radiation. Because up there, the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field can't protect us from the harmful effects of the Sun.

NASA estimates that an astronaut on a one-year trip to Mars would absorb about 66 rem of radiation. That’s about a hundred times more than what we experience here on Earth and about two-thirds of the current NASA lifetime allowance. So, from a radiation perspective, a year on Mars is like a lifetime on Earth, making a life on Mars, well, not great.

That’s where fungi might be able to lend a hand. See, some species of fungus aren’t just resistant to radiation; they can grow from it. Certain species can survive in areas of extreme radiation, like the failed Chernobyl nuclear reactor.

In fact, some researchers believe they can derive energy from these environments through a process called radiosynthesis. Think of it as like photosynthesis, but instead of capturing energy from visible light, they take it from gamma radiation. And these fungi are hypothesized to do this using a special adaptation of a very common chemical: melanin.

You might know melanin as the substance that’s responsible for skin color. Researchers are still studying how this works, but some hypotheses are that this intense radiation helps the melanin move electrons around more efficiently to harness energy. And as they move, they also absorb some of the radiation as it passes through the fungus.

So, NASA scientists wanted to test if the fungi’s melanin would also absorb radiation from space. In 2019, they flew an experiment to the International Space Station to test the properties of a mixture of plastic and fungal-derived melanin. And they expect to have results over the next few years.

And the U. S. Naval Research Laboratory will be sending melanin-rich fungi to orbit the Moon as part of the upcoming Artemis I mission scheduled to launch in early 2022.

But the hopes are that they could use these fungi’s melanin to shield not only astronauts but also people on Earth from harmful radiation. But that’s not all. Unrelated to its radiation-absorbing melanin properties, one of these fungi species might also help astronauts in other ways, like producing the food they need for a long space voyage.

To maintain a healthy diet, future explorers will need to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, just like we should here on Earth. Unlike on Earth, though, the space needed to grow all that good stuff will be extremely limited. So, to grow enough food to keep a crew fed, plants need to be able to grow quickly and efficiently.

In a paper published in 2018, researchers found that crops grew faster and were more plentiful after exposing them to a certain fungal species. Two years later, a study conducted onboard the ISS by the U. S.

Department of Agriculture found that the effect also works in space, with treated crops growing at rates two to five times faster than normal. And when sugar was added into the mixture, that growth rate could explode up to 25 times faster than usual. What’s more, the plants didn’t just grow faster; they produced more.

Pepper plants used during the experiment produced up to three times more peppers than those without the fungus. Their stems were more substantial, their leaves were larger, and even their roots were expanded. That’s exactly the kind of efficiency necessary to make farming in the confines of a spacecraft a real possibility.

And this super-speed growth seems to be the result of gases emitted by the fungus and absorbed by the plants, but exactly what those gases are and why they work remains a mystery. And there’s even still one other way that fungi could help humanity survive outside of

Earth: they could be the building blocks of our structures. See, NASA is prototyping the use of string-like parts of a fungus, called the mycelia, to form the structure of future lunar and Martian habitats. Building materials made in part from mycelia have proven to be quite strong here on Earth, and, on Mars, they could allow astronauts to grow new material to build with, rather than lugging it from Earth. And, if that fungus happens to be rich in melanin, the mycelia woven in could also provide additional protection from radiation.

So, taken together, fungi are starting to seem like the answer to many of our space problems. And, why not? The idea of exploring, and even living in space is pretty remarkable.

Relying on some of Earth’s most remarkable forms of life just kind of fits right in. And today’s sponsor, Fabulous, might hold the key to change some Earthly problems, like changing or building new habits. Every year, most people set new-year’s resolutions, but a lot of these tend to get abandoned in just the first 2 months.

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And the first 100 people who click on the link will get 25% off a premium Fabulous subscription! Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space. [♪ OUTRO]