One of the most daring dreams of the human race has been to set up a colony on Mars. But the fact that the red planet does not have a breathable environment has always dampened man’s spirit. However, a team of scientists has now found a novel way to solve this problem — they have proposed using bacteria to help us breathe on Mars.
The cyanobacterium is a microorganism that can suck up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and output oxygen. Unlike plants, the bacteria can do this under the harshest conditions where only scarce sunlight is available. Even in the deepest trenches of the Earth’s oceans, the cyanobacteria can continue with their photosynthesis quite efficiently. And that is what makes the organism very suitable for colonizing Mars.
The reason cyanobacteria are able to continue with photosynthesis despite the scarce availability of sunlight is the special nature of its chlorophyll. Cyanobacteria use chlorophyll-f, which allows it to transform near infrared/far-red light into energy. And in an environment like Mars that receives only 44 percent of the sunlight received by Earth and has just 0.13 percent oxygen in the atmosphere, cyanobacteria will definitely prove to be very useful.
“This might sound like science fiction, but space agencies and private companies around the world are actively trying to turn this aspiration into reality in the not-too-distant future… Photosynthesis could theoretically be harnessed with these types of organisms to create air for humans to breathe on Mars,” Futurism quotes Elmars Krausz, an author of the study.
As per estimates, a hectare of trees releases anywhere from 2.5 tons to 11 tons of oxygen every year. In contrast, a hectare of cyanobacteria grown on ponds can release up to 16 tons of oxygen annually. And considering that the cyanobacteria in Mars will be grown in bioreactors where aspects like temperature, illumination, nutrient flow, etc. will be micromanaged, the oxygen output of the bacteria can easily be increased multifold.
Not just air for Mars, but food and fuel as well
Cyanobacteria not only promise to resolve the oxygen issue of settling on Mars, but they also offer ways to resolve problems related to food and fuel.
Growing plants for food on Mars is definitely possible. But it is a big challenge. Colonizers will be required to grow a large number of plants in order to receive the necessary nutrients their bodies need. The cost required for doing this would be on very high. In contrast, cyanobacteria are already known to contain high levels of proteins and other nutrients. In fact, the only things absent from the bacteria are a few oils and Vitamin C. If the alternatives for these can be produced separately, every other nutrient requirement of the human body can easily be satisfied on Mars by just consuming cyanobacteria.
And when it comes to fuel, these bacteria again prove to be our best bet on the red planet. For one, they are known to produce a variety of oils. These can be refined and used as biofuel for almost every activity, whether it be cooking or driving a vehicle. Research is also ongoing to check whether cyanobacteria can be used to produce rocket fuel. And if positive results are obtained, cyanobacteria can actually prove to be the most important resource as far as the colonization of Mars and the advancement of human civilization is concerned.