New Research Suggests Genetically Engineered Bacteria Could Transform Mars Into A Habitable Planet

Students at Exeter University have successfully demonstrated that genetically engineered bacteria could help to create breathable air on Mars when combined with perchlorate salts.

Students show that genetically engineered bacteria could create breathable air on Mars.
Pavel Chagochkin / Shutterstock

Students at Exeter University have successfully demonstrated that genetically engineered bacteria could help to create breathable air on Mars when combined with perchlorate salts.

Students from Exeter University have suggested that genetically engineered bacteria has the possibility to completely transform Mars and create a habitable planet that has breathable air after new research conducted in a lab showed that salts that can be retrieved from Martian soil could help to fuel this process.

According to the Daily Mail, by creating this genetically engineered bacteria, perchlorate can be converted straight to oxygen, and this is certainly handy as perchlorate is known to be found on at least one percent of Mars.

To create their special broth, students used a salt solution and mixed it with the engineered bacteria inside of a bioreactor, which was able to successfully break down the compounds into oxygen and chloride, with the oxygen later harvested. With Elon Musk’s SpaceX hoping to send humans to Mars in 2024 and NASA tentatively planning to send humans to Mars by 2030, it is imperative that there is a way to produce oxygen if humans are to build a future habitat on the Red Planet.

The team behind the new research at Exeter University have done exceedingly well with their creation and were awarded the gold medal at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in Boston after showing that they could use genetically engineered bacteria to create breathable oxygen.

As team member Juliana Sackey explained of the new process which could help to make air breathable on Mars after winning the award, “It’s the culmination of a summer full of new experiences in team work, organization and discovery in synthetic biology. It was a great ending to our trip to Boston and we’d like to say a big thank you to our supervisors at the university and everyone that helped us along the way.”

Describing how the process to create oxygen on Mars initially came about, Sackey noted, “Our project was initially inspired in two ways; bioremediation (introducing a bacteria to consume or break down water sources) and space exploration. We found a link between the two in perchlorate, an ion found in contaminated water sources on Earth that could potentially help humans breathe on Mars.”

Despite perchlorate salts being highly toxic for humans, Sackey and her team felt that it would be possible to take these salts and turn them into chloride and oxygen, which is a process that could greatly improve the chances of human survival on Mars.

With new evidence in showing that genetically engineered bacteria can be used to create breathable air, the future of exploring and building a colony on Mars looks much brighter today.