Monday, March 17, 2008

Water Plus Moon Dust Equals Hardy Bacteria Snack? Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas
(Image Credit: NSF, via New Scientist Space)

Despite the fact that lunar dust is hostile to most earthen plant life, it looks as if one bacteria does not mind taking "a bite" out of the white stuff.

(New Scientist Space) A hardy life form called cyanobacteria can grow in otherwise inhospitable lunar soil, new experiments suggest. Future colonists on the Moon might be able to use the cyanobacteria to extract resources from the soil that could be used to make rocket fuel and fertiliser for crops. [...]

When put in a container with water and simulated lunar soil, the cyanobacteria were found to produce acids that are amazingly good at breaking down tough minerals, including ilmenite.

They use the nutrients freed up this way to grow and reproduce. "This is unbelievable," Brown told New Scientist. Breaking down the same minerals artificially would require heating them to very high temperatures, which uses enormous amounts of energy, he says. Cyanobacteria, on the other hand, use only sunlight for energy, though they do their extraction work more slowly than heating the soil artificially.

While the Cyanobacteria will not help us grow food directly upon lunar soil, they could enable us to easily mine the surface without resorting to shovels and drills. Future colonists could then simply use lunar vacuum cleaners to collect the moon dust, and let these hardy bacteria do the rest.

Since water is probably scarce on the moon, lunar residents will probably have to either choose to import H2O for both themselves and their microscopic friends, or simply modify the bacteria genetically to survive on human urine.

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

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~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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