Use of cyanobacteria for in-situ resource use in space applications

Karen Olsson-Francis, Charles S. Cockell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The regolith of other planetary bodies, such as the Moon and Mars, is rich in inorganic elements that could potentially be exploited for space applications. Lithotrophic microorganisms that are capable of utilising rocks as a growth substrate, and facilitate the extraction of elements, are ideal candidates for in-situ resource use. Of particular interest are the cyanobacteria, which have been suggested for applications, such as oxygen, fuel and biomass production, nutrient acquisition, and feedstock provisions. In this study, Gloeocapsa strain OU_20, isolated from a rock-dwelling community exposed to low Earth orbit; Leptolyngbya strain OU_13 and Phormidium strain OU_10, both isolated from a rock-dwelling community exposed to Mars simulated conditions; Chroococcidiopsis 029; Arthrospira platensis: Synechococcus elongatus: and Anabaena cylindrica, were examined as potential organisms for space in-situ resource use. Volcanic rocks, including basalt (low in SiO2) analogous to martian and lunar basalt, rhyolite (high in SiO2), and anorthosite analogous to lunar regolith were used as growth substrates. The growth rate and rock dissolution were significantly lower with rhyolite demonstrating the importance of silica content in defining the potential for in-situ resource use. Biological weathering resulted in the release of bio-essential elements from the rock matrix, highlighting the potential of cyanobacteria for applications such as bio-mining and nutrient acquisition, on other planets. A. cylindrica produced the maximum biomass with the three rock-types and the optimal value was obtained with the basalt. Exposure experiments demonstrated that A. cylindrica, Chroococcidiopsis 029, Gloeocapsa strain OU_20, Phormidium strain OU_10, and Leptolyngbya strain OU_13 were able to survive 28 days of exposure to desiccation and Mars simulated conditions, which is beneficial in case of system malfunction and for storage. The results from this study indicate that cyanobacteria can potentially be used for in-situ planetary resource acquisition. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1279-1285
Number of pages7
JournalPlanetary and space science
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Space applications
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Lithotrophic
  • Regolith
  • Mineral acquisition
  • DNA


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