Bacteria proved to be incredibly efficient at extracting metals from asteroids


On board the ISS, an experiment staged by scientists from the University of Edinburgh has ended. They studied the possibilities of using bio-production technology in space, primarily in zero gravity. As it turned out, some terrestrial bacteria liked the new habitat so much that their appetite increased by 400%, which promises excellent prospects for mining with their help minerals on asteroids, the Moon and Mars.

Bio-mining technologies are based on the ability of bacteria to leach metals and minerals from rocks. For them, this is a natural metabolic process, but for humanity, the benefit is that it is possible to eliminate toxic substances in the mining industry, like the same cyanide that is used to extract gold. Also, bacteria are interesting from the point of view of disinfecting contaminated soil.

Bio-extraction of minerals

Three types of bacteria were selected for the experiment on the ISS: Sphingomonas desiccabilis, Bacillus subtilis, and Cupriavidus metallidurans. For them, “biomining reactors” were designed – devices the size of a matchbox with a bacterial solution inside, where a piece of basalt was placed during the research. It is similar to the lunar regolith, and for even greater similarity, lunar gravity was also simulated using a centrifuge. The goal of the experiment: to find out how well the bacteria will live and feed in unfamiliar conditions.

The bacteria B. subtilis and C. Metallidurans showed poor results, they did not like the low gravity. But S. Desiccabilis leached elements with particular zeal, reaching from 111.9% to 429.2% of the Earth’s norm at different levels of gravity. Scientists have come to the conclusion that the earth microbe can live peacefully and honestly work for the good of mankind, despite the weightlessness. There would be food, but S. Desiccabilis not will let you down!

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