Microbial mining could help colonize the Moon and Mars, claims study | Jobs Vox


“Some of those traits include the production of chlorophyll that absorbs far-red photons and the ability to extract water and iron from surrounding minerals,” she said.

Kiselas said the way microbes process metals in their desolate home made them think about our own mining and manufacturing practices. “When we mine for minerals, we often end up with ores that can present challenges for the extraction of valuable metals,” he said.

“We often need to mine these ores through extreme processing to turn it into something of value. This practice can be costly both monetarily and environmentally.

Kisailus is now considering a biological strategy that would use natural or synthetic analogs of siderophores, enzymes and other secretions to replace minerals where now only a large mechanical crusher is effective. Going a step further, they suggested that there might be a way to persuade microbes to use comparable biochemical capabilities to generate an engineered substance on demand in inconvenient places.

“I call it ‘lunar making’ rather than terraforming,” Kiselas said. “If you want to build something on the Moon, instead of people going through the expense of doing it, we can have robotic systems 3D-print media and then let microbes reconfigure it into something of value.” It can be done. It can be done without endangering human life.”

Study Abstract:

Iron is an essential micronutrient for most living organisms, including cyanobacteria. These microorganisms have been found in the driest polar and non-polar deserts on Earth, including the Atacama Desert in Chile. Iron-bearing minerals were identified in colonized rock substrates from the Atacama Desert. However, the interactions between microorganisms and iron minerals remain unclear. In the present study, we determined that sedimentary gypsum rocks collected from the Atacama Desert contained both magnetite and hematite phases. A cyanobacteria was isolated on substrates consisting of gypsum with embedded magnetite nanoparticles. Transmission electron microscopy imaging revealed a significant reduction in the size of the magnetite nanoparticles due to their dissolution, which occurred around the microbial biofilm. Concurrently, hematite was detected, possibly from oxidation of magnetite nanoparticles. Cultures with magnetite nanoparticles showed higher cell numbers and siderophore production, indicating that the cyanobacteria were actively obtaining iron from the magnetite nanoparticles. Magnetite dissolution and iron acquisition by cyanobacteria were confirmed using large bulk magnetite crystals, highlighting the survival strategy of cyanobacteria in these extreme environments.


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