Algae will help humanity in the exploration of Mars

(ORDO NEWS) — While the world is raving about the images from the Perseverance mission, the UNLV team of scientists is already hard at work on the next step, preparing to send humans to the Red Planet.

Humans, unlike rovers, need oxygen and food. UNLV geochemist Libby Hausrath and Lina Sicil, an environmental microbiologist, solved this problem with algae.

Extremophilic algae are species of algae that are known for their ability to thrive in extreme environments. They can use carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. These algae are edible, rich in nutrients and, in addition, grow quickly.

The first results of the study are encouraging. So far, scientists have identified three species of algae that show significant growth under extreme conditions.

They used a low-pressure vacuum chamber to mimic the atmospheric pressure found on Mars and covered it with a tempered glass plate that lets in half as much sunlight.

Scientists have studied three strains of algae: Dunaliella salina, Chloromonas brevispina, Chlorella vulgaris. Dunaliella salina is commonly found worldwide in salt lakes.

Chloromonas brevispina lives in snowy climates. Chlorella vulgaris, used as a protein-rich food supplement, is found in freshwater and soil environments.

“We were really surprised that algae grew at such low pressures. They can thrive in extreme conditions on Earth, but atmospheric pressure is much lower on Mars, so we were skeptical about what the outcome would be,” Sicil said.

The results of the study were published in the journal Frontiers of Microbiology, with another publication on low-light algae cultivation due in early 2023.

The team isolates specific traits from each species of algae to find out which combination of traits is best for Mars.

For example, algae that grow at low pressure are potentially more important than those that grow at a particular type of light because light is easier to control than pressure. It is hoped that laboratory conditions can be recreated in greenhouses on the surface of the Red Planet.

“Understanding the genetic adaptations that allow algae to grow could help design possible life support systems and potential greenhouses on Mars,” Houserath says.

The scientists’ study also showed that these algae can produce oxygen at levels that humans need to survive. NASA engineers, with whom Hausrath and Sicil are collaborating, will test these findings in practice.


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