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Can We Grow Crops On Mars?
According to recent research, growing your own food in Martian soil might be more difficult than first supposed.
For instance, any Martian explorers hoping to live off the land will have to confront the chemical compound perchlorate, which exists in relatively high concentrations on the planet’s surface. Perchlorate is already known to be a dangerous contaminant here on Earth that can cause serious thyroid and lung problems.
Now, a team of scientists has developed a bioinspired catalyst that simplifies the perchlorate removal process and destroys 99 percent of the contaminant at ambient temperatures and pressures. The results provide “a water-compatible, efficient, and robust catalyst to degrade and utilize [perchlorate] for water purification and space exploration,” according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The new research builds on past experiments that make use of anaerobic microbes, tiny organisms that live in oxygen-poor environments. Some of these organisms can survive by harvesting oxygen atoms inside perchlorate, which effectively breaks down the pollutant. The microbes can be cultivated to do this work in industrial reactors, but it can take weeks or months to establish working stability in this process.
It's interesting to note that, prior to the chemical-based solution, there was research done using living organisms.
Science fiction fans may recall the scooters from Gregory Benford's stark 1983 novel Against Infinity:
Bioengeering had put out a spec report on the long crawly things five months back. Scooters had been designed to soak up ammonia-based compounds and digest them into oxy-available ones.
(Read more about remediating organisms)
Early work on this topic can be found in these somewhat more optimistic articles; NASA Wants To Grow Potatoes On Mars and Martian-Grown Food Might Be Fine.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/1/2021)
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