Our attention is greatly piqued by a recent article in Gizmodo about cyanobacteria, the microbes that helped terraform the lifeless Earth into a vibrant biosphere. Today, the very same critters could be the key to colonizing Mars.
In science fiction—and in the recent movie “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon—we find humans harvesting fields of wheat under terraformed Martian skies and growing rows of potatoes inside climate-controlled Habs. But in reality, growing any plants on Mars is going to be a challenge, because the Martian soil lacks some key ingredients.
This is actually ALSO an issue on Earth, but we have a solution: Microbes. Cyanobacteria are among a diverse group of nitrogen-fixers, bugs that deploy specialized enzymes to pull N2 out of the air and convert it into ammonia. On Earth, nitrogen fixers live symbiotically within plant roots, feeding their hosts nutrients in exchange for sugar. and colleagues argue that we could likewise harness cyanobacteria to extract all the fertilizer we’ll need from the Martian atmosphere.
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To learn about one ABO member that is harnessing the nitrogen-fixing abilities of algae for use as fertilizer, check out Acclergy’s TerraSync product.