back to article NASA fungus problem puts theory of 'Martian mushrooms' on toast

Festering fungus has become a problem way down in the bowels of NASA, and could lead to false identification of extraterrestrial material. Research (PDF) presented at the 49th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference revealed that, in one clean room at least, NASA has a bit of an issue with earthly fungi. Scientists at the NASA …

  1. Notas Badoff

    Um, nope

    "And not just any funguses, but some species capable of producing amino acids that are usually considered to be extra-terrestrial when found in meteorites."

    Not stated.

    "The presence of fungi in NASA curation facilities is particularly interesting since some fungal species are able to produce amino acids like Aib (α-aminoisobutryic acid) and Iva (Isovaline) that are often considered to be extra-terrestrial when identified in meteorites."

    That is, there are fungal species on earth that can produce weird amino acids normally thought only produced extra-terrestrially. A very general statement.

    "Most of the identified fungal isolates belonged to the genus Penecillium. At least one member of this genus has been able to produce Aib in the lab."

    I've seen people dressed in purple do really weird things, and you're wearing purple, so...

    "The fungi cultivated from the laminar flow bench in this study are currently being analyzed for the presence and enantiomeric ratios of a broad suite of amino acids commonly found in meteorites, including Aib and Iva, to determine whether they could be possible sources of these compounds."

    In other words, we have not yet seen extra-terrestrial-like amino acids from the fungi found. They may find such, and that is correctly disturbing and worth consideration if never imagined possible by previous researchers.

    This was a "hey, look at this!" first note paper. Consider this indication of hurriedness:


    "Half of the sample was set aside to determine free amino acids content, whereas the other have was acid vapor hydrolyzed (6N HCl) for 3 hours at 150 °C to measure total amino acids (free and protein-bound)."


    To have and half not, right?

    Oh well, count down to "Extra-terrestrial fungi from meteorites hidden in NASA labs for 20 years!" 5, 4, 3, ...

    1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Re: Um, nope


      If you're alert to that sort of thing AKA naturally do that sort of critiquing (spotting holes/lacunae/mis-statements/misrepresentations), then (a) you're unusual ; (b) if you're up for some real outrage I suggest you take a look at global warming research. There, the problem is rarely that of journos doing time-pressured drive-by.s (as this appears to be), but very much the researchers themselves declaring conclusions which, at best, are not supported by the data/research, but which, disturbingly often, flatly contradict the data/research. That is, the same problem just (a) a level deeper and (b) deliberate.

      Most people never look at the actual research, or at best read just its Conclusion/Abstract, so they never see this. Even of those who go deeper, not many people can see holes/what's missing -- they just see what's there.

      "The dog that barked in the night," as Sherlock observed and Watson hadn't even thought of.

      1. Faux Science Slayer

        "Perplexing Apollo Questions for NASA" at FauxScienceSlayer

        Unable to 'place a man on the Moon in this decade' as directed, NASA faked the 'giant leap'....

        Film and photos are obvious fakes, the lander logistics anomalies are enormous....

        then there's the Carbon climate forcing fraud....Google Earth shows Curiosity filmed in Greenland....

    2. art guerrilla

      Re: Um, nope

      mayhaps you meant:


      to halve and halve not, richtig ? ? ?

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Um, nope

      "but some species capable of producing amino acids that are usually considered to be extra-terrestrial when found in meteorites."

      you sure that these fungususes and shrooms aren't of ALIEN ORIGIN???

      icon because obvious

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Um, nope

      Extra-terrestrial fungi from meteorites hidden in NASA labs for 20 years

      My guess is that the fungi came from the Mushroom Planet.

  2. JakeMS

    Sounds like

    They need a jolly good clean sir!

    Let's get the cleaning products out and sort this out!

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like

      You sound like a fun-guy.

      1. JakeMS

        Re: Sounds like

        "You sound like a fun-guy"

        Yeah, I get that a lot. I mean how can you not have fun cleaning?

        Come on guys, lets get our mops, our buckets and our sponges and have some fun cleaning! It's party time!

        1. Korev Silver badge

          Re: Sounds like

          Yep, that mush-room is going to be sparkling in no time

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge

          Re: Sounds like

          "I mean how can you not have fun cleaning?"

          when it involves being on your hands+knees and lots of bending over? that's not very fun...

          "Come on guys, lets get our mops, our buckets and our sponges and have some fun cleaning! It's party time!"

          how about high pressure washers and compressed air instead? That's even MORE fun!

          when I was in the Navy they used to joke that a 1st class petty officer does "Field day" (ship cleanup) while standing up. And the CPOs all do their proficiency watches during that time so that the rest of the crew can clean. heh.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Sounds like

            when it involves being on your hands+knees and lots of bending over? that's not very fun...

            Extensive evidence available online* suggests otherwise.

            *Except in Theresa "For Your Own Good" May's UK, of course.

          2. The Nazz

            Re: Sounds like

            re bombastic bob

            Hey up, man! I never knew that you were in the Navy. Why on earth (topical eh?) have you never told us this before?

            Am i just being extra thicko today, or is anything that is found on or in a meteorite extraterrestrial by definition?

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Sounds like

      Nah. They don't need to bother with a cleanup. Just make a giant mushroom omelette. Using the whole lab as a frying pan. Job done.

      This science malarkey is easy! Now I'm just off to prove that black is white and find a zebra crossing...

  3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Houston, we have a problem!

    Seriously: fungal spores are notoriously tough. They can survive all sorts of treatment that would wipe out most bacteria. I worked as an image processing specialist at a department for microbiology for several years, and remember well how they dreaded fungal contamination, and didn't really want to have people researching fungi in the lab. Best of luck to NASA in cleaning this up

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Houston, we have a problem!

      I once worked in a biochemical lab with some fairly "universally toxic" substances. When you diluted them down 6-10 fators of ten, the organisms we were interested in them could tolerate them, so we were careful to maintain sterility once we diluted 1e3 times or more. After some time, we seemed to be having some issue with contamination ... and, of course, eventually we found a fungus growing, albeit extremely slowly, in the undiluted "toxin"

      1. Tigra 07

        Re: Houston, we have a problem!

        Were you producing homeopathy medicine treatments?

        1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

          Re: Houston, we have a problem!

          Homeopathy would require > 6 x 1023 dilution, so a mere 106 wouldn't qualify (although, unlike the homeopathic version, the latter might actually work, and not as a double-strength placebo)

      2. Orv Silver badge

        Re: Houston, we have a problem!

        Having once found my car's diesel fuel filter clogged with fungus threads, I'm thoroughly impressed by their ability to tolerate extreme living conditions.

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Houston, we have a problem!

        eventually we found a fungus growing, albeit extremely slowly, in the undiluted "toxin"

        Yeah, there are some remarkably extremotolerant fungi.

  4. vtcodger Silver badge

    Not a Problem

    I'm sure that somewhere out there, there is an overpriced, Internet connected, tool that'll clean those labs right up so long as the extortionate monthly fee is paid.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Not a Problem

      IOT: the Internet Of Toadstools?

  5. Dwarf

    They came from outer space

    This research is hardly going to result in a new set of space films - attack of the 40 foot mushrooms and the like, but you have to wonder what happens if you add a little water to mars - would you get a food source or is it that this is just ordinary mushrooms from earth that have snuck into the labs and in which case, what else has snuck out ?

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: They came from outer space

      I should think that the primary concern would be that if you add a little water to Mars, you will BECOME a food source. It's gonna be hard to spin that into an auspicious way to start man's conquest of the Solar System.

    2. Mike Moyle

      Re: They came from outer space

      Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in YOUR Laboratory!

    3. annodomini2

      Re: They came from outer space

      Plenty of water ice on Mars, just need to defrost it.

  6. lglethal Silver badge


    That lab was clean before they started investigating Meteorites so by definition those mushrooms must come from the meteorites and lunar samples! Ahaha - Proof of extraterrestrial life!!!

    And they called me mad for wearing a tin foil hat!!!

    1. teknopaul

      Re: ahaha!

      The mushrooms on earth _are_ intelligent life from outer space. Some of them have been trying to communicate with us. We just called it a "trip" and went back to work a little wonky on Monday.

  7. Chairman of the Bored

    Suggested title...

    There's a fungus among us!

    1. WonkoTheSane

      Re: Suggested title...


      I was saving that for the next reboot of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".

    2. A K Stiles

      Re: Suggested title...

      Took a couple of reads to get where you were going with that - presumably you're pronouncing the 'g' and the end of 'among' in a more hard / glottal way to match the 'g' in fungus, rather than a soft/ringing way like an example I can't think of if you pronounce all your 'g's the first way...

      Meh - it's too early on a Monday for fully formed thoughts!

    3. Crisp

      Re: Suggested title...

      There's not mushroom for puns in The Register.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Suggested title...

      I met funGus on a trip to Scotland. I can't remember now whether that was in Glasgow or Aberdeen. Good guy, but he really needed to comb his beard.

      1. m0rt

        Re: Suggested title...

        Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger.....(alltogether now...)

        1. DuncanL

          Re: Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger.....(alltogether now...)

          Snake! It's a snake!

  8. AceRimmer1980

    I say we nuke the site from orbit

    You've not seen Andromeda Strain, have you..

  9. Chris G


    These are actully spores from a sentient fungal symbiote from the plant Blrghh 4, Once the spores are breathed in they migrate to the brain and nervous system where they take over the organism. I expect after 20 years most of the people working in the lab are no longer fully human.

    The best test is to eat or offer them Marmite, it's one of their cousins they regard it as cannibalism.

  10. Spudley

    They're going to use this to start blaming all kinds of things on fungus.

    It's possible that fungus could become a bogeyman for them.

  11. DJ Smiley

    Why not.....

    Do the research in space, on the meterorite?

    I'm sure there's reasons, mostly being $$$... but would it be possible?

    1. find users who cut cat tail

      Re: Why not.....

      For start, a meteoroid only becomes a meteorite after hitting the planet...

      1. Allan George Dyer
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Why not.....

        And for second, you've still got the problem of cleaning the equipment before you send it up.

        For third, you don't want to send a live researcher, so you send a robot and AI, and from there you have no way of knowing when the AI contacts the aliens to plot our extermination.

        Has there ever been an AI + alien fungus sci-fi movie? Do we do the script now, or wait until it's a documentary?

  12. Zog_but_not_the_first

    I want some...

    Martian sausages.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I want some...

      Given we're talking about fungi, wouldn't those have to be Quorn sausages then?

    2. Chris G

      Re: I want some...

      You are seriously dating yourself there, as am I by knowing it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have they tried applying natural yogurt?

  14. oiseau

    "You've not seen Andromeda Strain, have you ..."

    Yes, many (many) years ago.

    And I've also recently seen Daniel Espinosa's "Life"

    Although a bit far fetched in quite a few aspects, it did leave me wondering about just how much thought and peer review is actually going into the handling of whatever is brought back from space.


    1. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Warren Ellis's SUPERGOD also touches on the hazards of space mushroom farms.

  15. Korev Silver badge

    Music choice?

    Did the scientists listen to Infected Mushroom whilst working?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I blame Donald Trump!

    Or Brexit, or Facebook, or something....

    1. Chemical Bob

      Re: I blame Donald Trump!

      You've got it backwards - Trump is the result of Space 'Shrooms

  17. mylittlepwny

    Life finds a way...

  18. detritus

    Are they ..ahh.. Psilocybe Cubensis you've used in your photo there, ElReg?

  19. JeffyPoooh

    "...swabs taken..."

    "...but swabs taken from the floor, a table, the inside of a laminar flow bench used to process meteorites and a nitrogen filter all produced fungal growths."

    Swabs. -> reminds me of 'The Phantom of Heilbronn'.

    Wiki: "The Phantom of Heilbronn....was a hypothesized unknown female serial killer whose existence was inferred from DNA evidence found at numerous crime scenes in Austria, France and Germany from 1993 to 2009. ...The only connection between the crimes was DNA, ...the DNA recovered at the crime scenes had already been present on the cotton swabs used for collecting DNA samples; they belonged to a woman who worked at the factory where they were made."

    Maybe. Maybe not. Worth considering, and double-checking.

    1. Chris G

      Re: "...swabs taken..."

      What! An Austrian woman put the fungus there?

      How did she get in?

    2. WonkoTheSane

      Re: "...swabs taken..."

      So, you're saying the samples were taken using already moldy swabs?

      On the other hand, that would be the PERFECT alibi for an actual serial killer!

  20. king_phil


    sounds like Texas Fungus Infatuation

  21. fedoraman

    Environmental monitoring

    I work for a pharmaceutical manufacturer, and have spent many, uncomfortable, hours in cleanrooms, servicing equipment, and doing particle counting to assess the air quality. There is always regular environmental monitoring going on: swabbing surfaces, sampling the air, and the people's clean-room clothing, putting sample onto agar and seeing if they grow. I'd be very surprised if NASA *weren't* doing the same. So any contamination should be picked up fairly quickly. In the pharma industry, contamination in injectable drug products leads to the dreaded product recall, and damage to reputation like you wouldn't believe...

    1. Stevie

      Re: particle counting

      "Two hundred million, eight thousand and five, two hundred million, eight thousand and six, two hundred million, eight thousand and seven ..."

      "Hey fedoraman, would you like a cup of tea?"

      "Ooh yeah! Nothing like a good cup of tea!"

      "No, nothing like a good cup of tea."


      "Two hundred million, eight thou ... um ... aw! One, two, three"

      Thank you Eccles and Bluebottle for the script.

  22. Stevie


    "NASA astrobiologist Daniel Glavin, author of a paper concerning amino acids in meteorites told Science magazine that the findings had caused him to rethink his research, with the acids possibly having a more earthly origin."

    Or, to quote verbatim from an imagined tape of the statement: "Buggering bollocky bastard! That's my Nobel flushed down the pan! And f*ck that f*cking lab cleaning service! I'm totally suing somebody over this fiasco!"

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