Now, things like space radiation and the lack of gravity are not the only enemies of human space explorers.
NASA has started investigating a potential enemy of space adventurers: fungus, or the mycobiome growing on surfaces inside foreign habitats.
According to a new study led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, certain types of fungi that can colonize the human body and cause infection could multiply in numbers in simulated habitats that could one day prove useful on the moon and planet Mars.
The findings were based on the Inflatable Lunar/Mars Analog Habitat (ILMAH), which seeks to simulate the environment on the International Space Station (ISS) as well as proposed lunar or Red Planet bases.
“We showed that the overall fungal diversity changed when humans were present,” said study author and NASA senior research scientist Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran in a statement.
The team collected samples from eight locations at four different times, and then gene-sequenced them to show fungal species that were present and were viable populations.
For instance, they found a rise in the Cladosporium cladosporioides population, which rarely leads to human infections, but could cause asthmatic reactions in immune-compromised individuals.
Some fungi were found to thrive when humans were added to the enclosed habitat, and they include known pathogens that can lead to asthma, allergies, and skin conditions. Prolonged stays in these unique environments could stress out the inhabitants and result in reduced immunity and greater likelihood of getting sick.
The Fungus Factor In Prolonged Space Missions
Venkateswaran explained that fungi can hurdle harsh surroundings, from caves to nuclear accident sites. They are known to be difficult to remove from certain indoor and closed spaces, so it’s highly important to study their potential hazards to astronauts and their space habitats.
The ILMAH is tasked to provide insight on the physiological, psychological, and behavioral effects of living in confined spaces in isolation from the outside world.
The hope in probing the mycobiome is to eventually develop cleaning and maintenance protocols that can help keep fungi out.
The study was detailed in the journal Microbiome.
A study from March 2016, on the other hand, concluded that fungi in the space station could pave the way for new and cheaper medicines.
Researchers from NASA and the University of Southern California (USC) hoped that the environment at the ISS, characterized by low gravity and high radiation, would stress the fungi to develop new traits that have not yet been observed on Earth.