Life in space takes place in mysterious ways. A series of experiments performed by astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS) has shown that bacteria are capable of extracting useful materials from rocks on Mars and the moon.The ISS team believes that bacteria could one day be used to break rocks into the soil for growing crops, or to provide minerals for life support systems that produce air and water. The New York Times report informs that the scientists at the University of Edinburgh developed matchbox-sized mining devices called biomining reactors over a ten-year period and were sent to the ISS last year.
The devices came with small pieces of basalt, which is a common rock on the moon and Mars, submerged in the bacterial solution. The experiment was called BioRock in which scientists launched 36 samples to orbit. Three weeks later, researchers found that bacteria adapted itself to the new environment and could advance the removal of rare earth elements from basalt in lunar and Martian landscapes by up to around 400 per cent.
To extract useful elements such as copper and gold from rocks, microbes are also routinely used on Earth in biomining. The new experiments have also provided new data on how gravity influences the growth of communities of microbes on Earth.
As humankind plans to colonise space, they will need what are known as rare earth elements, which are crucial to modern technologies. 17 elements, like yttrium, lanthanum, neodymium and gadolinium, are sparsely distributed in the Earth’s crust. Without those rare elements, modern technology would not have certain lasers, metallic alloys and powerful magnets that are used in cell phones and electric cars.
Mining these elements on Earth is a mammoth task which requires crushing tons of ore and then extracting smidgens of these metals using chemicals that leave behind rivers of toxic wastewater.