Experiments conducted on the International space station have shown that bacteria from Earth can be used to extract useful minerals on the moon or Mars.
Micro-organisms are already being used on Earth to extract economically important elements from rocks, including rare earth elements used in mobile phones and electronics. Scientists from the United Kingdom spent 10 years developing matchbox-sized biodegradation reactors for an experiment onboard the ISS. Eighteen devices were delivered aboard a SpaceX rocket in July 2019. Small pieces of basalt, similar to most of the material on the surface of the moon and Mars, were loaded into the devices and soaked in a bacterial solution.
The three-week experiment evaluated the ability of three bacterial species to extract rare earth elements from basalt. Only one, Sphingomonas desiccabilis, was able to leach rare-earth elements from basalt under all three different gravity conditions-microgravity (sometimes called weightlessness), Martian gravity, and under standard conditions on Earth.
The results of the study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, show that bio-mining using these bacteria on the moon and Mars is possible.