News | World News | Chemicals found in Martian soil releases oxygen that could be used to make the red planet habitable

Chemicals found in Martian soil releases oxygen that could be used to make the red planet habitable

Popular Articles

Could genetically engineered bacteria create breathable air on Mars? Splitting chemicals found in Martian soil releases oxygen that could be used to make the red planet habitable

  • Students from Exeter University discover way to break down a salt found in soil 
  • They genetically engineered bacterium to split perchlorate and release oxygen
  • NASA aims to have humans on Mars by 2030 and a colony may be built in future
  • The technique could create stores of oxygen for use by settlers on the red planet 

By Victoria Bell For Mailonline

Published: 13:14 EST, 9 November 2018 | Updated: 13:14 EST, 9 November 2018

View
comments

Salts found in Martian soil could be transformed into breathable air thanks to a bacteria created in the lab by a group of students.

Their genetically engineered organism can convert perchlorate - a chemical compound that covers over one per cent of Mars - into oxygen. 

The did so by placing a solution containing the salt into a bioreactor with the engineered bacteria.

It then broke the compound down into its building blocks, chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was then harvested.

NASA aims to have humans on Mars by 2030 and, if successful, a colony may be built in the future.

Finding a way to produce oxygen on the red planet could help settlers establish a permanent presence.

Scroll down for video 

The petri dish containing the bacteria was used to break the compound down into its building blocks, chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was then harvested
The petri dish containing the bacteria was used to break the compound down into its building blocks, chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was then harvested

The petri dish containing the bacteria was used to break the compound down into its building blocks, chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was then harvested

The research group from Exeter University behind the project earned a gold medal at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in Boston for their creation.

The gold medal is Exeter's fifth consecutive gold medal in the iGEM competition, which this year attracted more than 300 teams from around the world.

'It's the culmination of a summer full of new experiences in team work, organisation and discovery in synthetic biology,' said team member Juliana Sackey.

'It was a great ending to our trip to Boston and we'd like to say a big thank you to our supervisors at the university and everyone that helped us along the way.

The genetically engineered bacteria was made by the group of students and was able to convert perchlorate - a chemical compound - into oxygen
The genetically engineered bacteria was made by the group of students and was able to convert perchlorate - a chemical compound - into oxygen
The genetically engineered bacteria was made by the group of students and was able to convert perchlorate - a chemical compound - into oxygen
The genetically engineered bacteria was made by the group of students and was able to convert perchlorate - a chemical compound - into oxygen

The genetically engineered bacteria, pictured left, was made by the group of students and was able to convert perchlorate - a chemical compound - into oxygen

Juliana went onto explain how the group devised the project and the steps they took to complete it. 

'Our project was initially inspired in two ways; bioremediation (introducing a bacteria to consume or break down water sources) and space exploration.

'We found a link between the two in perchlorate, an ion found in contaminated water sources on Earth that could potentially help humans breathe on Mars.'

Martian topsoil is made up of one per cent perchlorate and - although perchlorate salts are toxic to humans - the team thought it might be possible to reduce perchlorate into chloride and breathable oxygen.

The gold medal is Exeter's fifth consecutive gold medal in the iGEM competition, which this year attracted more than 300 teams from around the world
The gold medal is Exeter's fifth consecutive gold medal in the iGEM competition, which this year attracted more than 300 teams from around the world

The gold medal is Exeter's fifth consecutive gold medal in the iGEM competition, which this year attracted more than 300 teams from around the world

They interviewed many experts contributing towards the effort to get to Mars. 

'They have been a great team, always open to new ideas,' said principal supervisor, Professor John Love.

Professor Love, the team's principal supervisor said that the group met regularly to discuss ideas and interviewed experts during the course of their research.

'The competition was fierce this year, and a few rule changes meant that we had to raise our game,' he said.  

'As ever, iGEM is a massive team effort. I am very grateful to those researchers and PhD students who, in addition to their day jobs, helped the students in the lab.' 

The solution containing the salt was put into a bioreactor with the engineered bacteria which then broke the compound down into  chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was harvested
The solution containing the salt was put into a bioreactor with the engineered bacteria which then broke the compound down into  chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was harvested
The solution containing the salt was put into a bioreactor with the engineered bacteria which then broke the compound down into  chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was harvested
The solution containing the salt was put into a bioreactor with the engineered bacteria which then broke the compound down into  chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was harvested

The solution containing the salt was put into a bioreactor with the engineered bacteria which then broke the compound down into chloride and oxygen, the latter of which was harvested

WHAT ARE EUROPE'S PLAN FOR A MOON BASE?

In 2016, the head of the ESA elaborated on plans to build a village on the moon, designed by London firm Foster + Partners.

'The future of space travel needs a new vision,' said Jan Woerner.

The concept is a base for lunar exploration by humans and robots, which would act as a stopover for spacecraft, and become a 'village' with mining and even tourism.
 

Multi-dome lunar base being constructed, based on the 3D printing concept. Once assembled, the inflated domes are covered with a layer of 3D-printed lunar regolith by robots to help protect the occupants against space radiation and micrometeoroids
Multi-dome lunar base being constructed, based on the 3D printing concept. Once assembled, the inflated domes are covered with a layer of 3D-printed lunar regolith by robots to help protect the occupants against space radiation and micrometeoroids

Multi-dome lunar base being constructed, based on the 3D printing concept. Once assembled, the inflated domes are covered with a layer of 3D-printed lunar regolith by robots to help protect the occupants against space radiation and micrometeoroids

'Right now we have the Space Station as a common international project, but it won't last forever,' said Woerner.

'If I say Moon Village, it does not mean single houses, a church, a town hall and so on. No, that would be misleading. 

'My idea only deals with the core of the concept of a village: people working and living together in the same place. 

'And this place would be on the moon.

'In the Moon Village we would like to combine the capabilities of different spacefaring nations, with the help of robots and astronauts. 

Structures for a lunar base could be built by robots sent ahead of human astronauts. Experts said 3D printing technology can currently construct an entire building in around a week
Structures for a lunar base could be built by robots sent ahead of human astronauts. Experts said 3D printing technology can currently construct an entire building in around a week

Structures for a lunar base could be built by robots sent ahead of human astronauts. Experts said 3D printing technology can currently construct an entire building in around a week

'The participants can work in different fields, perhaps they will conduct pure science and perhaps there will even be business ventures like mining or tourism.'

Woerner said the village could even help man get to Mars.

'The Moon Village would also act as a 'pit stop' for the further exploration of the Universe,' he said. 

'Esa is eager to fly to Mars as well. 

For ESA's 3D-printed lunar base concept, Foster+Partners devised a weight-bearing ‘catenary’ dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurised inflatable to shelter astronauts
For ESA's 3D-printed lunar base concept, Foster+Partners devised a weight-bearing ‘catenary’ dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurised inflatable to shelter astronauts

For ESA's 3D-printed lunar base concept, Foster+Partners devised a weight-bearing ‘catenary’ dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurised inflatable to shelter astronauts

'For more than a decade, we have had a very successful spacecraft orbiting there. And now, with ExoMars, two unmanned missions are aiming at martian orbit and the surface. 

'Yes, the Americans want to send astronauts to Mars one day, but today's technology isn't prepared for this trip yet. 

'For example, we must develop countermeasures against the cosmic radiation that endangers the health of humans on long space trips. And we have to learn how to endure longer periods of time in space, not only in low orbit as on the Space Station.

'This is where our Moon comes into play – it is the perfect stepping stone to Mars.' 

The space agency has been touting the permanent lunar colony as a replacement for the orbiting International Space Station, which is due to be decommissioned in 2024 

 

Advertisement

Most watched News videos

MOST READ NEWS

View All

MOST WATCHED NEWS VIDEOS

By Shawn Arnette 09/11/2018 13:28:00