Friday, September 10, 2010

ISRU: Microbe mining the Moon & Mars

From From Album LP1 -
Light weight passenger - Cyanobacterium Anabaena cylindrica used commercially as a nitrogen fixer and as a natural fertilizer in rice paddies. Scientists also found it could help mine oxygen, nutrients and minerals on the Moon. Field of view approximately 100 μm [Protist Information Server].

Charles Choi
Scientific American

Microbes currently are used in mining to help recover metals such as gold, copper and uranium. Now researchers suggest bacteria could be enlisted for "bio-mining" in space, to extract oxygen, nutrients and minerals from extraterrestrial bodies such as the moon and Mars for use by future colonists there.

Researchers experimented with a variety of cyanobacteria, often known as blue-green algae, on analogues of lunar and Martian regolith (loose surface rock). These photosynthetic bacteria have adapted to live in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, from the cold, hyper-arid Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valleys to the hot, dry Atacama Desert in Chile, suggesting they might be capable of surviving the rigors of outer space.

"We will not be able to colonize either the moon or Mars without development of cyanobacterial biotechnologies," says astrobiologist Igor Brown, who did not take part in this study. Previously, at NASA, Brown and his colleagues successfully grew cyanobacteria from hot springs in Yellowstone National Park on iron-rich rocks designed to simulate lunar material.

"There are processes one could use to dissolve lunar regolith with special chemicals, but the costs of delivering such compounds to the moon is enormous," Brown says. "That is why we propose using just vials of microbes instead. "Scientists could also genetically engineer new microbes that are even better at bio-mining, he adds.

Read the full article, HERE.

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