Moon dust could be harmful to human cells and DNA

Inhaling lunar dust could prove harmful to astronauts on long-term missions.
By Laurel Kornfeld | May 09, 2018
A laboratory experiment has indicated that Moon dust could be harmful to human cells and DNA, raising concerns for future astronauts who may spend long periods of time on a Moon base.

The potential danger of lunar dust has been known since the Apollo days, when astronauts experienced watery eyes and sneezing after their space suits brought the dust, which sticks to everything, into their spacecraft.

Because the Moon has no weather or atmosphere, its surface soil is dry and can become electrostatically charged. Numerous meteorite impacts over billions of years have pounded much of the dust into tiny pieces.

"Very small particles in the breathable range or smaller can interact directly with cells," explained study leader Bruce Demple of Stony Brook University School of Medicine in an interview with the website Gizmodo.

Demple's experiment used both crushed and uncrushed simulated Moon dust due to the difficulty of obtaining real samples. He then grew both human and mouse cells in a laboratory culture and subsequently exposed them to lunar dust.

That exposure either killed the human and mouse cells or damaged their DNA, with the tiny, crushed pieces appearing to have done the most harm.

However, to Demple's surprise, the dust's level of reactivity, meaning its ability to produce reactive oxygen, had no relation to the damage it caused.

This left scientists unclear as to why the dust was harmful to the cells and DNA although some suspect this is related to the shapes of the dust grains.

Lunar dust and its effect is key not just to the safety of astronauts but also to equipment landed on the Moon because of the way it sticks to everything.

As a next step, scientists hope to test human cells and DNA in the presence of real Moon dust. Acquiring a sample will be easier in light of this study's findings.

A paper on the findings has been published in the journal GeoHealth.





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