Microbially-Enhanced Vanadium Mining and Bioremediation Under Micro- and Mars Gravity on the International Space Station

Charles S. Cockell, Rosa Santomartino, Kai Finster, Annemiek C. Waajen, Natasha Nicholson, Claire-Marie Loudon, Lorna J. Eades, Ralf Moeller, Petra Rettberg, Felix Fuchs, Rob Van Houdt, Natalie Leys, Ilse Coninx, Jason Hatton, Luca Parmitano, Jutta Krause, Andrea Koehler, Nicol Caplin, Lobke Zuijderduijn, Alessandro MarianiStefano S. Pellari, Fabrizio Carubia, Giacomo Luciani, Michele Balsamo, Valfredo Zolesi, Valfredo Zolesi, Jon Ochoa, Pia Sen, James A.J. Watt, Jeannine Doswald-Winkler, Magdalena Herova, Bernd Rattenbacher, Jennifer Wadsworth, Craig R. Everroad, René Demets

    Research outputpeer-review


    As humans explore and settle in space, they will need to mine elements to support industries such as manufacturing and construction. In preparation for the establishment of permanent human settlements across the Solar System, we conducted the ESA BioRock experiment on board the International Space Station to investigate whether biological mining could be accomplished under extraterrestrial gravity conditions. We tested the hypothesis that the gravity (g) level influenced the efficacy with which biomining could be achieved from basalt, an abundant material on the Moon and Mars, by quantifying bioleaching by three different microorganisms under microgravity, simulated Mars and Earth gravitational conditions. One element of interest in mining is vanadium (V), which is added to steel to fabricate high strength, corrosion-resistant structural materials for buildings, transportation, tools and other applications. The results showed that Sphingomonas desiccabilis and Bacillus subtilis enhanced the leaching of vanadium under the three gravity conditions compared to sterile controls by 184.92 to 283.22%, respectively. Gravity did not have a significant effect on mean leaching, thus showing the potential for biomining on Solar System objects with diverse gravitational conditions. Our results demonstrate the potential to use microorganisms to conduct elemental mining and other bioindustrial processes in space locations with non-1 x g gravity. These same principles apply to extraterrestrial bioremediation and elemental recycling beyond Earth.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    Number of pages15
    JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
    StatePublished - 1 Apr 2021

    Cite this