Science

'Astronauts in Mars may face fungal infection risk'

12 Jul 2017 | By Shikha Chaudhry
Can humans colonize Mars?

A recent study by NASA has discovered a "surprising" setback to the colonization of Mars.

Turns out that "when will humans colonize Mars" isn't the bigger question but "how will they survive" is.

NASA found that astronauts on Mars and other planets in the future would be at the risk of hitchhiking fungi infections, including asthma and allergies.

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In context: Can humans colonize Mars?

12 Jul 2017'Astronauts in Mars may face fungal infection risk'

DetailsStudy conducted on fungi inside enclosed habitats

NASA researchers used Inflatable Lunar/Mars Analog Habitat (ILMAH), which simulates space conditions, for the study.

They found the presence of human beings changed the composition of the habitat's fungal community, called 'mycobiome'.

NASA's Senior Research Scientist, Kasthuri Venkateswaran, said the study published in the journal 'Microbiome' is the first of its kind meant for "the future human habitation of other planets".

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Kasthuri Venkateswaran's statement

"Fungi are extremophiles that can survive harsh conditions and environments like deserts, caves or nuclear accident sites, and they are known to be difficult to eradicate from other environments including indoor and closed spaces. The overall fungal diversity (inside ILMAH) changed when humans were present."

EnemyThe surprising enemy of the astronauts

Surviving in space isn't easy, especially on Mars, which has a toxic environment.

So, specially-designed habitats would be needed on the planet for supporting human life.

Researchers say living in such closed pods not only becomes stressful but also weakens the immunity system.

Certain types of fungi, including known pathogens, can colonize the inhabitants' body, making them more vulnerable to diseases.

Understanding changes and survival of fungi in space pods

Kasthuri Venkateswaran said, "In-depth knowledge of the viable mycobiome will allow the development of required maintenance and cleaning procedures in a closed habitat like ILMAH and also prevent it from deteriorating and becoming a health hazards to its inhabitants."

Take-awayHow was the study conducted?

For the purpose of the study, three student crews stayed inside the ILMAH for a month.

The researchers wanted to determine how the mycobiome composition changed in a closed environment during human presence.

Samples from the completely isolated pod were collected at certain intervals.

Inhabitants were also given a weekly schedule, including collection of surface samples and cleaning the pod with antibacterial wipes.