As astronauts are preparing for the upcoming space missions to Mars, scientists are now hard at work to find ways to make the red planet as hospitable as possible for human settlement. A recent experiment has found that the good old blue-green algae may play a key role in achieving that interplanetary feat.
The new study, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, conducted by researchers from the University of Bremen, Germany has demonstrated for the first time that blue-green algae, or Anabaena cyanobacteria, could be successfully grown on Mars.
Since cyanobacteria are believed to be the reason why we have oxygen in our atmosphere, scientists were already considering possible ways to harness this organism’s ability to make oxygen in order to live on Mars. But the red planet’s atmospheric pressure always presented itself as a setback.
In the recent experiment, however, the researchers developed a bioreactor called Atmos that can simulate the neighboring planet’s atmospheric pressure, which is around 10 percent that of Earth, and uses only the ingredients that can be found on Mars.
Among the main ingredients used in the bioreactor is water, which can be obtained from frozen ice found on Mars, as well as an imitation of Martian regolith that the researchers prepared by mixing minerals that can be found on the planet.
“Here we show that cyanobacteria can use gases available in the Martian atmosphere, at a low total pressure, as their source of carbon and nitrogen,” said astrobiologist Cyprien Verseux. “Under these conditions, cyanobacteria kept their ability to grow in water containing only Mars-like dust and could still be used for feeding other microbes. This could help make long-term missions to Mars sustainable.”
Once settlers arrive on Mars, they will need oxygen, water, food, and other basic consumables so the new study is an important development since it makes it much easier to develop sustainable biological life support systems.
Of course, we’d rather humanity just gets its act together and saves the beautiful planet we already live on.