Biologists are worried about powerful mutant strains of fungus which the Russian space station Mir will bring back to Earth when it crashes into the ocean near New Zealand later this month.

Yuri Karash, a Russian space expert, thinks the micro-organisms, which have spent 15 years quietly mutating in an isolated environment on Mir, could be a real problem on Earth. “I don’t want to be a pessimist,” he said, “But the problem is there and it is a serious one. The mutant fungi do exist and in the future they could do serious damage to humanity. We can only draw the final conclusions after we have completed our research.”

Over the years, visitors to Mir have complained that the biggest problem they found on reaching the space station was the smell. Various types of fungus have been found growing behind door panels and in air conditioning units. Here on Earth, Legionnaire’s Disease, which can be fatal, is caused by bacteria that is often found in improperly maintained air conditioning ducts.

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