Science: Earth bacteria will mine minerals on other planets

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By John

The first mining experiments in space could pave the way for new technologies to help humans explore and establish settlements on distant worlds, suggests a study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

Tests performed by astronauts on the International Space Station suggest that bacteria can extract useful materials from rocks on Mars and the Moon. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications and could aid efforts to develop ways to source metals and minerals, such as iron and magnesium, essential for survival in space.

The bacteria could one day be used to break down rocks in the soil for growing crops or to supply minerals for life support systems that produce air and water, the researchers say. The matchbox-sized mining devices, called ‘biomining reactors’, were developed by scientists at the UK’s Center for Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh over a 10-year period.