Bacteria can help in extracting useful materials from rocks on Mars and the Moon, according to experiments conducted by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS team observed that bacteria could break rocks down into soil that can further be used for growing crops or may provide minerals for life support systems that produce air and water.
To conduct the study, scientists created matchbox-sized mining devices called biomining reactors at the University of Edinburgh over a 10-year period. These devices were then sent to the ISS team last year.
The devices carried small pieces of basalt, a common rock found on Moon and Mars. The basalt was submerged in bacterial solution.
After three weeks, it was found that the bacteria enhanced the removal of rare elements of Earth from basalt in lunar and Martian landscapes by up to around 400 per cent.
In order to extract useful elements like copper and gold from rocks, microbes are routinely used on Earth in biomining.
Researchers said that the new study also provides new data on the influence of gravity on the growth of communities of microbes on Earth.