NASA finds black mold fungus can survive on Mars — and it poses a threat to astronauts

NASA finds black mold fungus can survive on Mars — and it poses a threat to astronauts
The first high-resolution, colored image of Mars sent back by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover after its landing on 18 February 2021NASA
  • Microbial hitchhikers like the black mold fungus can potentially survive on Mars and pose a threat to astronauts looking to set up camp on the fourth planet from the Sun.
  • Black mold, also called ‘toxic mold’, has been linked to allergic reactions like skin rashes, headaches and other symptoms.
  • Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Aerospace Centre found that black mold can survive Martian conditions by launching them into the Earth’s stratosphere.
Not all life on Earth is doomed to die on Mars. Some microbes, like the black mold fungus, have the ability to temporarily survive on the Red Planet’s tough terrain.
Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Aerospace Centre tested the endurance of microorganisms in Martian conditions by launching them into the Earth’s stratosphere.

NASA finds black mold fungus can survive on Mars — and it poses a threat to astronauts
<em></em>MARSBOx payload containing dried microbial samples sent up in the Earth's middle stratosphere to test for whether they would be able to survive on MarsGerman Aerospace Center (DLR)

"We successfully tested a new way of exposing bacteria and fungi to Mars-like conditions by using a scientific balloon to fly our experimental equipment up to Earth's stratosphere," said Marta Filipa Cortesão, co-author of the study published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

Advertisement
But there’s a catch. These microbial hitchhikers pose a threat to astronauts who may be looking to settle down on Mars one day. The black mold fungus poses a potential health risk, even though studies are yet to prove exactly how much exposure is too much.

Why is black mold dangerous?
Black mold — also called ‘toxic mold’ — is more of a legal construct, than a medical diagnosis, according to US Poison Control.

NASA finds black mold fungus can survive on Mars — and it poses a threat to astronauts
Quartz disc with dried Aspergillus niger spores -- black mold -- before being placed in the aluminum sample carriers that went into the MARSBOx payloadGerman Aerospace Center (DLR)

Nonetheless, there is research to suggest that there is a correlation between the presence of black mold and serious health problems. A 2016 study published in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry suggests that the presence of black mold in contaminated buildings can lead to skin rashes, headaches, dizziness and chronic fatigue.
Advertisement


“With crewed long-term missions to Mars, we need to know how human-associated microorganisms would survive on the Red Planet, as some may pose a health risk to astronauts," noted co-author Katharina Siems.

On Earth, mild or even dire symptoms can be easy to treat. But, on Mars, where supplies are likely to be limited, they could severely impact the productivity of the astronauts posted on the planet.

What does this mean for manned missions to Mars?
The ability of microbes to survive in extreme conditions — the good and the bad — could have major implications for missions like Elon Musk’s plans to eventually colonise Mars. His mandate for SpaceX, an aerospace company he founded in 2002, is to send a million people to the Red Planet by 2050.
Advertisement

To be fair, samples of microbes were only sent up to Earth’s stratosphere. Not the real deal located 225 million kilometres away.

NASA finds black mold fungus can survive on Mars — and it poses a threat to astronauts
MARSBOx payload in the Earth's middle stratosphere (38 km altitude). The shutter is open exposing the top layer samples to UV radiation.NASA

Many key characteristics of the environment at the Martian surface cannot be found or easily replicated at the surface of our planet. But, scientists believe that — above the Earth’s ozone layer — the middle stratosphere provides conditions that are remarkably similar.

Advertisement
The survival of microbes could actually be good news since the end goal is to create life on Mars and hopefully make it fit for human habitation in the future.

According to SpaceX, the atmosphere on the fourth planet from the Sun can be compressed to accommodate the group of planets.

Meanwhile, NASA’s latest mission, Perseverance, has landed on Mars and one part of its mission is to hunt for life that may already exist on its seemingly barren surface.

Advertisement
While exploring outer space, one just needs to be doubly sure that any life that is found — even if its microbes — is not something that travelled from Earth in the first place.

SEE ALSO:
INTERVIEW: Deutsche Bank plans to hire 1,000 employees in India as it looks to build core technologies in-house

Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy resigns after Congress-led govt loses majority

One in every five rupees lent by SBI to individuals, goes to government employees
{{}}