Martian dust as the basis for life

(ORDO NEWS) — An international research team has identified a subspecies of cyanobacteria that is best suited for use in a biological life support system that will allow humans to survive on Mars.

At first glance, the inhospitable environment of Mars contains few useful resources for life support or food production.

But a high-carbon (95%) nitrogen-containing atmosphere and red regolithic soil rich in iron and other metals and minerals are suitable for cyanobacteria.

Microorganisms of this type can produce oxygen and form biomass that can serve a variety of purposes, including food production.

The development of a life support system based on cyanobacteria is not something new for space research, but progress in this area has slowed down due to the huge variety of cyanobacteria – there are more than a thousand species. Dr. Cyprien Verso and colleagues have identified the cyanobacteria strain Anabaena sp. RSS 7938 as very promising for use on Mars.

Verso explains how they arrived at their results: “First, we selected several strains of cyanobacteria based on what we already knew.

We then searched for information about the genomic DNA of these strains and finally compared them through a series of experiments in the lab.

We had two sets of criteria: the first one related to the ability of cyanobacteria to feed on the resources available on Mars.

The second concerned their ability to support the growth of other organisms, such as edible plants and other bacteria, that would not be able to use Martian resources directly.”

In the latter case, the group was able to grow duck kelp using cyanobacteria biomass as the only raw material.

The scientists also want to better understand the biological mechanisms that make the selected strain of Anabaena sp. PCC 7938 is so valuable.

“Everything is just beginning, and the amount of research work can seem daunting. Fortunately, the number of teams involved in research on cyanobacteria-based life support systems is growing rapidly,” Verso said.

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