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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mutant Bacteria Next Threat From Russia's Mir

Forget the danger of heavy-weight debris raining down from space when Russia sends the Mir orbiter to a watery grave this month -- the real threat could be mutant fungi, a researcher said Tuesday.

Yuri Karash, an expert on the Russian space programme, said there was a possibility that micro-organisms, which have spent the last 15 years mutating in isolation aboard Mir, could present a threat if they survived the fall to Earth.

"I wouldn't overstate it...but a realistic problem exists," Karash told a news conference.

Karash, who has undergone cosmonaut training and is an aerospace advisor, said his conclusions were based on research carried out by Russia's Institute of Medical and Biological Problems.

Researchers have said that the fungi could be especially virulent if mixed with earth varieties that attack metal, glass and plastic.

Western health officials have in the past expressed concerns about micro-organisms that could be brought back to earth after a Russian microbiologist 13 years ago discovered the first of many aggressive forms of fungi inhabiting Mir.

Russian space officials have played down the threat, but visitors to the orbiter have found numerous types of fungi behind control panels, in air-conditioning units and on dozens of other surfaces.

Though surprisingly destructive, they give off corrosive agents like acetic acid and release toxins into the air.