It’s said that magic mushrooms are a doorway to another world, but did you know there are fungi in space?
Research into mycelium of all mushroom types has allowed us to push scientific boundaries and learn more about our planet. Not only is it highly nutritious, but it’s also able to withstand extreme conditions and displays unique growing characteristics.
There is even evidence to suggest mushrooms could help us explore distant planets while cleaning space debris in the process.
Is fungus an ancient alien, or is it an earthly tool we can use to advance humanity?
Here we investigate the phenomenon of mushrooms in space and how they keep astronauts fed. You’ll also find out how these organisms produce spores and what kind of conditions fungus can’t survive in.
Let’s get started.
Mushrooms have proven their resilience by surviving the harshest climates on earth. They have also displayed the ability to withstand exposure to levels of radiation that exceed what humans can.
For example, after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the fungus on the reactor walls survived the blast. Rather than disintegrating, the mushroom’s pigment had simply darkened through a process known as melanization.
It should come as no surprise then that there are fungi in space.
Mycelium was first observed outside our atmosphere on a Russian space station in 1988. Astronauts found mold rapidly growing along the walls of the craft that threatened to damage its structural integrity.
Luckily, the ship’s crew managed to keep the fungal invader at bay with a rigorous cleaning regime.
Further research into the Penicillium expansum species revealed that it gained additional melanin layers due to the radiation in space. Other space mushrooms, like Cryptococcus neoformans, grow even faster when exposed to these extreme rays.
There’s evidence to suggest fungus reproduction improves in zero gravity. The lack of friction in space allows mushrooms to release their spores further than they can on earth. As a result, the organism spreads rapidly.
Mushrooms could also help with building lightweight structures for space explorers to live in. These homes could provide shelter while shielding humans from harmful radiation.
While research on fungi in space could help humans travel the great unknown, it’s already used to sustain astronauts.
Mushrooms are a brilliant source of protein and can be stored for long periods. What’s more, their unique growing characteristics allow them to grow faster than other crops in zero gravity.
All mycelium needs to flourish is an absence of light, exposure to oxygen and water, and a carbon-based substrate. Since fungus consumes waste and turns it into nutrients, it can create an endless food cycle for long-distance travel.
It’s also possible to get Vitamin D from space mushrooms by exposing them to UV light. These fruiting bodies are the only non-animal product to offer this essential mineral and could provide sustenance to light-starved environments.
Although nutritious, mushrooms can’t provide all of our food needs as they lack essential fatty acids and Vitamin C. However, fungus species like Aspergillus niger can be exploited to produce yeast and even medicine.
Before you can appreciate the power of space spores, you need to understand how they are produced.
The body of a fungus, known as mycelium, grows underground by spreading a network of roots called hyphae. As it colonizes, these tiny branches soak up nutrients and oxygen while removing waste and toxins from the soil.
There are even some fungal species, like mycorrhizal, that establish a bond with the plants around them. The mycelium trades its nutrients with these living organisms for energy derived from photosynthesis.
To create space fungi, two colonies need to link and share their genetic material. The mycelium then signals its roots to form fruiting bodies that consist of a stalk and cap.
Spores are produced within the gills of a mushroom using specialized hyphae. The fungus then releases these microscopic seeds into the air with force, using the wind to disperse its genetic code.
Some mushrooms have come up with ingenious ways of spreading their seeds. One variety produces a harsh odor that attracts flies. After the insects feast on these space spores, they fly away and spread the fungus as they defecate.
Considering the extreme conditions fungus can survive, it’s hard to imagine killing spores is possible. However, these microscopic seeds can be destroyed in several ways.
For starters, pouring a concentrated mixture of salt and water will kill mushroom spores, but it won’t eliminate the fungus body. Other homemade recipes, like a soapy solution, can also destroy these microscopic seeds.
There are also toxic chemicals such as fungicides that can stop the spread of space mushrooms. These harmful compounds are absorbed by the hyphae, killing spores and fruiting bodies on contact.
All of these methods rely on making the environment inhospitable for the mycelium, starving it of nutrients.
It takes a lot of effort to eliminate mushroom spores. These tiny seeds can survive the harshest conditions, which is why many mycologists refrigerate them to study them for extended periods.
As we learn more about these organisms, the more we see how fungi in space can advance our species.
Mushrooms can nourish our bodies as we explore our solar system and protect us from extreme radiation levels.
Are you ready to travel the great unknown in a ship made of fungus?
Start your adventure by ordering spores from our online store, so you can study and learn more about their incredible qualities.