There is a team of NASA scientists who believe that the secret to life on Mars may be in Chernobyl. The nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986 in Ukraine resulted in the emission of high doses of radiation throughout the region around the nuclear plant.
What really matters to scientists is the long-term effect this radiation has on living things and how it can be applied in different fields such as medicine and conservation. However, for NASA, the organisms that survived this disaster, can be used to create a protection for humans to survive in space.
In 2016, scientists from the space organization sent eight fungal species from the Chernobyl exclusion zone into space. The fungi were kept aboard the International Space Station and the eight species were sent, two were especially successful on radioactive surfaces.
“The radiation seen in Chernobyl is high, but this black fungus was the first to emerge [after the disaster], even before the bacteria,” study leader Kasthuri Venkateswaran told the Motherboard portal.
“That’s how we selected these fungi in such a rich radiation environment. They persisted thanks to a type of protein coding and molecular information that protects against the radioactive level, “added Venkateswaran.
Scientists are looking forward to studying organisms to develop something like a sunscreen against space radiation that can be used to protect astronauts. Recently, the fungi have returned to Earth and, although the study is still at an early stage, researchers remain at work on the final product.
“We need to take every precaution before creating a human habitation on Mars and beyond,” said Venkateswaran. The study of the surviving organisms of Chernobyl can also help scientists develop seedlings that survive radiation in space, thus enabling the cultivation of plants on other planets.
Although Chernobyl has higher levels of radioactivity than spacecraft will have, how organisms develop great tolerance to contaminated areas may reveal clues to how plants would survive cosmic radiation.
“Radioactivity-resistant genes can be incorporated into yeast cells that produce beer so humans are willing to go into space – they will have a better beer to drink,” said the NASA researcher.