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MEI Online: Biotechnology: Latest News: August 10th 2019


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:: Astronauts Are Growing Microbes in Space to Help Us Mine Asteroids


Scientists think that bacteria can help make space mining much easier.

If humans ever want to establish a base on the Moon, Mars, or in deep space, they may need to mine local rocks to support themselves. Now a team of scientists is taking a first step toward finding out whether rock-chowing bacteria can lend a hand.

On Tuesday, astronauts on the International Space Station fired up a series of miniaturized reactors that’ll allow them to grow specialized bacteria capable of extracting resources from rocks here on Earth. The experiment, called Biorock, seeks to learn whether the microbes’ abilities are altered in low gravity conditions—and ultimately, whether these tiny miners can help support a future off-Earth base.

On Earth, microbes are already used in so-called “biomining” applications; helping humans to extract metals like copper, iron, and gold from rocks or mining waste. Biomining bugs have a special ability to thrive on rocks, often forming tough mats called biofilms and releasing acids that help liberate metals. If we were to harness them for mining asteroids or rocks on Mars, that could reduce the need to ship mining chemicals from Earth, Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist at the University of Edinburgh and principal investigator for Biorock, explained to Motherboard.

But before we start shipping microbes across the Solar System, we need to know if they’re really up for the space mining gig. To that end, Biorock will investigate how microbial biofilm formation and biomining change outside of Earth’s gravity well.

Read the full article on Vice




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