Tech UPTechnologyArmor for space bacteria

Armor for space bacteria

We have been growing and using various bacteria for millennia (previously intuitive, now scientifically) to produce compounds that help us live. Consider the microbes that make fermented milk, yogurt, or beer possible; or in those that generate important chemical substances (ethyl alcohol, acetic acid, acetone …). Bacteria are essential for various industries and activities: mining, waste cleaning, agriculture …

Our fruitful relationship with microorganisms will continue when we establish colonies in space, and on the ships that will take us to other worlds in voyages of months or years. In the same way that astronauts need suits to protect them in space, bacteria will require some form of protection that allows them to survive in deadly environments.

That is what a team of chemists from the University of California at Berkeley has done: create a protective layer for anaerobic bacteria (those that do not require oxygen to live), which also converts them into usable carbon dioxide (CO2) scavengers later to generate useful substances for industry and (one day) for space colonies.

The bacterium-cyborg

Researchers have developed metalloorganic frames (MOFs) that cover microorganisms like a patch. What does this kind of metal armor do? It is impervious to oxygen and molecules such as peroxide, which shorten the existence of anaerobic bacteria, so that they survive much longer in oxygen-rich environments. And, as we said, it helps them retain the CO2 that is used to produce carbon-based compounds, with multiple uses.

In short, it is a biological method of producing chemicals necessary in environments such as spaceships or artificial habitats on other worlds. According to Peidong Yang, one of the authors of the experiment (published in PNAS) , “we are using our hybrid to fix CO2 and produce fuels, drugs and chemical compounds, and also to fix nitrogen that allows us to create fertilizer. If Matt Damon wants to grow potatoes on Mars, he needs fertilizer. “

The protective metallic layer works as a semiconductor that captures the light and with it electrons that the anaerobic bacteria use to feed themselves. This excess of electrons causes the microorganism to produce more carbon-based compounds than it would normally generate. Scientists have used an anaerobic bacterium called Morella thermoacetica (image), which makes acetic acid and has numerous industrial uses.

Yang and his colleagues are now working to increase the efficiency with which their hybrid microorganism captures light, transfers electrons and produces specific compounds. Your goal is to bring these capabilities together in a process that creates more complex molecules. According to Yang, “once you have fixed the CO2, which is the most complicated, there are many biological and chemical methods that allow you to use it to generate biofuels, drugs and basic chemicals .

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