Astromycology, the study of fungi in space, is the new trendy science as the new tv series of Start Trek: Discovery casted Anthony Rapp to play an officer who’s speciality is – you guessed it: astromycology. Well, this is good news! Even if the show fails in sientific accuracy, one cannot complain about the promotion of their own field of work. In fact, for someone trying to raise general science awareness, this comes in very handy!
Sci-fi has been around for years, in books, tv-shows, movies, comic-con, you name it. It has broaden people’s minds when it comes to expect the unespected or just by letting flow one’s imagination. It has also been suggested that many great real-science ideas came from science fiction. And, for the millions of kids who grow up surrounded by it, one can only forsee millions of awesome, brilliant scientists.
On astromycology itself – Fungi have already been found aboard the Russian space station Mir and the International Space Station (ISS), and being slightly more complex than simple bacteria, makes them slightly more interesting, specially when it comes to their potential use in medical-, biotechnology-, and space-related applications. This is because there is a two-sided characther to Fungi. On one hand, they are a threat to human health and safety, since many are associated with diseases, food contamination and with the degradation of the materials they grow in. However, on the other hand, their biology represents a very effecient and robust system, which can be used to produce products of interest, such as antibiotics like penicillin.
What’s interesting about Fungi in space, is that their growth in space conditions (microgravity, increased radiation exposure, etc.) can lead to changes. While some fungi might become less harmful to humans, others might produce different, more effective drugs. Besides, these changes will help us, biologists, to understand how life adapts to space, both in the short and long run. And they can teach us what to expect life to look like in different planets, with their different environments.
Astrobiology, as the study of life in the universe, truly is the future. And this time, with no fiction attached.