NASA aims to use modified bacteria to survive on Mars

NASA researchers are developing the use of modified bacteria that can produce sugar to supply foods for austronauts in space. The researchers are now preparing to test whether the bacteria could produce sugar in low gravity situations.

According to Gizmodo, NASA has already developed the idea of growing lettuce in space for food supply. Earlier this year, first lettuce grown from seed on the International Space Station. However, green leaves like lettuce cannot provide calories to supply energy for astronauts. By modifying a bacteria to produce sugar as the source of calories, NASA will provide a renewable food source for astronauts.

The genetically modified bacteria, dubbed as PowerCell, derived from a type of plankton called Anabaena. This bacteria uses photosynthesis to make sugars from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight.

NASA will perform the initial field test to see if the bacteria still capable producing sugar in space. According to New Scientist, researcher of NASA's Ames Research Center Lynn Rothschild and her team  will send the modified bacteria in space with German satellite in 2017.

German satellite will spin for six months in space at a speed that simulates Martian gravity. The satellite will not return to earth, but burn up in the atmosphere after a year.

To enable observation of PowerCell's capability, the researcher team will launch the bacteria along with other type of bacteria called Bacillus subtilis that functions as the indicator of the presence of sugar produced by PowerCell.

Bacillus subtilis has the capability to turn sugar into a red pigment. If the PowerCell are behaving as its expected, red colour will occur. The colour change will be detected by an on-board sensor which is linked to the NASA's research center.

The researchers will then be able to observe if the bacteria can survive the space launch and cosmic radiation. They will also test the capability of sugar producing bacteria under lunar and zero gravity to see if the modified bacteria could function on the moon or a space station.

But Rothschild said it is still uncertain whether the Anabaena spores will germinate when rehydrated on the satellite to begin the sugar production process.

NASA's researchers believe that the sugar produced by PowerCell could be turned into not only food, but also fuel. Another research conducted by researchers at Tianjin University, China, has found some cultured strains of bacteria that can turn one spoonful of sugar into fuel to generate up to 80 hours of electricity, according to Global Construction Review.

Some bacteria could also be engineered to make tools and other 3D objects. NASA's researchers has modified E. coli bacteria to be able to create plastic which can fold itself into any desirable 3D shapes when heated. It will help astronauts on long mission to make tools on the go.

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