Mold and fungus can be found anywhere and everywhere. Your favorite pizza or gooey grilled cheese? Mold. Those amazing button mushrooms at the Japanese restaurant down the road? Fungus. How about the corner of the shower in our bathrooms? Mildew.
Although most of us like to believe that fungus can only grow within damp and humid temperatures, that is simply not the case. Where fungus or mold can grow is all up the strain. There are a plethora of places on earth that can grow colonies of mold or fungus.
What if we wanted to push that envelope? What if there were places NOT on Earth that could harbor these organisms. NASA took their fungus experiment to new heights when it replaced the shower environment for the International Space station (ISS).
Yes, you read that right, this is extra-terrestrial fungus! Well, technically it is regular fungus that was unfroze, grown, and then refrozen at the ISS.
NASA is running experiments where samples of mold are being sent to the International Space Station in order to observe its life span. It is called Intraterrestrial Fungus (STaARS-iFUNGUS). In short, it is rare types of fungus that are sent to the International Space station for extended periods of time. The ISS then grows the fungus in different nutrients, refreezes the samples, and then sends them back to be tested.
One such particular strand is called Black Fungi. More specifically, Cryomyces Antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri. Since it is known as the toughest of its kind, it seemed to be perfect to freeze and blast into space. Its home is Antartica, who’s environment has been compared to that of Mars.
Its real home is actually in the deepest rocks inside Antarctica’s surface.
This is the first time that a non-lichen fungus has been used for this type of experiment.
We have actually learned from past experiments like this that over 250 types of fungus and bacteria live in space stations no matter how clean they may be.
The strains are tested for everything from radiation to what chemical was produced during growth. The statistics are also broken down by the colonies that survived and/or that can still reproduce. While most showed promising numbers as far as life, the reproduction rate was significantly low. Radiation has a lot to do with how low the reproduction numbers are on these samples.
There are examples of mold that exists on the ISS without being frozen and sent for observation as well. In December of 2016, four zinnia plants on the International Space Station were dying due to mold. According to NASA, the issue had been caused by too much water being given to the plants. The samples were bagged and had to wait to make the long trip back to earth in order to actually be processed and tested.
There is also a scary side to all this wonder of mold in space. Recently, an “Aggressive Space Fungus” has been found at the Russian Space Station.
The green and black mold has been found in the air units and many other surfaces of the ship. In this case, radiation could cause the fungus to grow at an exorbitant rate. It could also cause the fungus to mutate and become a threat to an astronaut with a weekend immune system.
Acetic Acid seems to be the biggest fear when it comes to this strain.
If it were to cause significant enough corrosive damage to the ship, it could implicate all of those on board. It could cause the electronics to fail causing power outages. It could also eat away at glass or metal that is a part of the ship. Once that happens, the inhabitants on the spacecraft run the risk of inhaling the material. With the lack of medical equipment or doctors, this could turn into a dire situation when we are talking about mold in space.
This discovery isn’t all scary however. If fungi can grow throughout the ship, then it is worth experimenting to try a fresh food source for the spaceship inhabitants. Scientists are currently trying to harness radiation energy for that very reason! Ionizing radiation, Fungi, and the colonization of plants are being tested to be used in harmony to create a fresh food source in space.
It seems that there is no limit to how far fungus can go, and after doing the research, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing!