Project

Radiofungi: Biological Pigments for Radioprotection

The Mediated Matter group

A major concern for manned missions is space radiation. Ionizing radiation is known to pose both acute and chronic risks to many organisms, including humans. At this time, it is important to expand strategies for radiation protection, including utilizing new materials and fabrication methods that can withstand different forms of radiation. The Mediated Matter group is researching the synthesis of biological pigments, including melanins and carotenoids, for biocompatible radioprotection. Such pigments can be fabricated for a variety of applications, creating a new class of materials and coatings that can protect life on Earth, in deep space, and beyond. 

Certain bacteria and fungi show a remarkable ability to persist—and even thrive—in high-radiation environments. The discovery of fungi inhabiting the interior of the International Space Station and highly irradiated terrestrial sites has led to an interest in organisms like the fungus genus Aspergillus. Some of these organisms form biopolymer pigments such as carotenoids and melanins, which are thought to have an important role in the radioresistance of the organis… View full description

A major concern for manned missions is space radiation. Ionizing radiation is known to pose both acute and chronic risks to many organisms, including humans. At this time, it is important to expand strategies for radiation protection, including utilizing new materials and fabrication methods that can withstand different forms of radiation. The Mediated Matter group is researching the synthesis of biological pigments, including melanins and carotenoids, for biocompatible radioprotection. Such pigments can be fabricated for a variety of applications, creating a new class of materials and coatings that can protect life on Earth, in deep space, and beyond. 

Certain bacteria and fungi show a remarkable ability to persist—and even thrive—in high-radiation environments. The discovery of fungi inhabiting the interior of the International Space Station and highly irradiated terrestrial sites has led to an interest in organisms like the fungus genus Aspergillus. Some of these organisms form biopolymer pigments such as carotenoids and melanins, which are thought to have an important role in the radioresistance of the organisms.

Here, we examine the growth and behavior of several species in simulated space-like environments, as well as the interior of the International Space Station, to identify changes that occur in these extreme conditions, and how they may be modulated by the production of or shielding by pigments. Through studying these organisms, we aim to elucidate not only the biological tools that protect and sustain them but gain a deeper understanding of how life can persist in the most hostile of places.  

This work is conducted by the Mediated Matter group as part of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative and is generously supported by the SEI-TRISH Seed Fund.

Research Team:

Sunanda Sharma, Nic Lee, Rachel Soo Hoo Smith, Sara L. Wilson, Neri Oxman

Research Topics
#space #biology