Microbial interaction with terrestrial and extraterrestrial rocks on the International Space Station : BioRock And BioAsteroid

This seminar is part of the EAI on-line seminars

By Rosa Santomartino, UK Centre for Astrobiology, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

19 April 2022, 16:00 CEST

As space agencies plan to expand human presence in space and to settle on the Moon first and Mars later, developing strategies to achieve this goal in a sustainable way is necessary. These include in situ resource utilization (ISRU) and recovering of materials by waste recycling. Microbe based technologies may be pivotal to the success of human space exploration. Potential roles of microorganisms in space include manufacturing, as building blocks of ecosystems, in waste recycling and in biomining. Understanding microbial response to space conditions is therefore essential to harness their potential.

The ESA-supported BioRock experiment (2019) and the BioAsteroid experiment (2021) on the International Space Station (ISS) studied microbe-mineral interactions in space, with a view to its potential roles in extraterrestrial life support systems, for instance ISRU, biofilm formation on rock and biomining.

Taken together, BioRock and BioAsteroid provided the first demonstrations of biomining, particularly from extraterrestrial material, on a space station. The results suggest that, in principle, microbial-supported bioproduction and life support systems could be effectively performed in space (e.g. Mars, Moon and asteroids), as gravity will likely not have a negative effect on biotechnological applications and microbial growth. Hence, our data demonstrate a potential role for microbe-mineral interactions in advancing a sustainable establishment of human presence beyond the Earth