(CNN) — Bacteria from Earth could be used to extract useful minerals on the moon or Mars, experiments performed on the International Space Station suggest.
Experiments performed on the International Space Station have suggested that bacteria from Earth could be used to extract useful minerals on the moon or Mars.
Microorganisms are already used on Earth to mine economically important elements from rocks, including rare earth elements, used in mobile phones and electronics.
Scientists in the United Kingdom spent 10 years developing matchbox-size biomining reactors for the experiment. Eighteen of the devices were transported to the ISS on board a SpaceX rocket in July 2019. Small pieces of basalt, similar to much of the material on the surface of the moon and Mars, were loaded into the devices and soaked in bacterial solution.
The three-week experiment assessed the potential of three species of bacteria to extract rare earth elements from the basalt. Only one, Sphingomonas desiccabilis, was able to leach rare earth elements from basalt at all three different gravity conditions — microgravity (sometimes called zero gravity), Mars-like gravity and under standard conditions on Earth. — Katie Hunt, CNN/@CNN