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As human activity in space continues to increase, understanding how biological assets respond to spaceflight conditions is becoming more important. Spaceflight conditions include exposure to ionizing radiation, microgravity, spacecraft vibrations and hypervelocity; all of which can affect the viability of biological organisms. Previous studies have shown that melanin-producing fungi are capable of surviving the vacuum of space and Mars-simulated conditions in Low Earth Orbit. This survival has been associated in part with the protective effects of melanin, but a comparison of fungal viability in the presence or absence of melanin following spaceflight has never been tested. In this study, we evaluated the protective effects of melanin by comparing the viability of melanized and non-melanized clones of Cryptococcus neoformans yeasts following a roundtrip to the International Space Station. Yeast colonies were placed inside two MixStix silicone tubes; one stayed on Earth and the other was transported inside for 29 days before returning to Earth. Post-flight analysis based on colony-forming unit numbers shows that melanized yeast viability was 50% higher than non-melanized yeasts, while no difference was observed between the Earth-bound control samples. The results suggest that fungal melanin could increase the lifespan of biological assets in space. © 2022 The Authors. Environmental Microbiology Reports published by Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Radames J B Cordero, Quigly Dragotakes, Phyllis J Friello, Arturo Casadevall. Melanin protects Cryptococcus neoformans from spaceflight effects. Environmental microbiology reports. 2022 Aug;14(4):679-685

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PMID: 35852045

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