Modified microbes will help in the colonization of new planets

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2018-06-03 20:30:09

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Modified microbes will help in the colonization of new planets

Since people are going into space in search of life, most alien organisms, of which we meet may be logged by us. Scientists from NASA and other institutions are trying to biologically alter microbes so that they took over some of the functions needed to sustain life beyond Earth. People are trying to rein in the microbes and get them to do useful things for thousands of years. We use them to make bread, beer and cheese, and recently started to produce with their help, medicines, fertilizers, and even biodiesel.

However, the developing field of synthetic biology promises to significantly expand the usable capacity of microbes. Achievements in the field of editing genes allow scientists to modify the genomes of microbes so that they can fulfil entirely new functions, such as the production of chemical substances not found in nature, the role of biosensors and even the production calculation.

Such a wide range of abilities interested in NASA, in particular because the Agency collects a mission to Mars. The main problem of space exploration is the enormous cost of the materials needed to sustain life on Earth, and long-term mission far away from Earth can wait for replenishment of supplies for months. Such things as medicines and food, eventually deteriorate, so even if we have a place for their transportation, shelf life will not allow you to store them forever.

That's why NASA explores the possibility of using microbes for the production of vital nutrients and building materials outside the planet. Ideally I would like just to take a packet "just add water" with microbes that are genetically programmed to produce certain nutrients. The Agency has already demonstrated a working concept with genetically modified yeast, which produce zeaxanthin, a key nutrient for eye health.

With regard to construction materials, the challenge is to use physical and chemical methods for the conversion of carbon dioxide, which many in the atmosphere of Mars, in simple organic molecules. Genetically modified microbes can produce from it plastic, fiber, and other types of raw materials, which will then be using 3D printers to turn into housing, tools and spare parts.

Not only NASA is trying to convert microbes for space applications. Scientists from the University of California at Berkeley are developing microbes that help make Martian soil more suitable for plant life.

Hopes for the development of agriculture on the red planet much quieted down when the lander Phoenix found on the surface high levels of perchlorates, salts that can be toxic to living beings, in 2008. But a team of scientists from Berkeley have designed microbes that can simultaneously reduce the concentration of perchlorate in the soil and enrich it with ammonia, is essential for healthy plant growth.

Having in mind not only space applications, scientists from mit have created a synthetic biological system that could create customized drugs on demand. Instead of using whole organisms, they dry frozen segments of DNA and other biomolecules in granules that you can rehydrate and start the production of medicines.

This portable system can be used to design antibodies that can fight off diseases quickly and cheaply, and granules can be transported at room temperature and is quite simple to use.

Although these projects are already being developed, other researchers look to the future.

In 2015, scientists from NASA and Berkeley outlined the potential near and far, the use of microbes to support people off the planet in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. They included projects that are already being developed for the production of raw materials, medicines and nutrients, as well as more ambitious plans for genetic modification of microbes to obtain the acid, which will allow you to extract valuable components from rocks, creating a biological adhesive that could bond the Martian dust with the production of bricks.

Scientists also believe that it is possible to create a closed system where all waste will be recycled by microbes for production of useful by-products. Genetically modified microbial fuel cells could extract useful chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater simultaneously generating electricity.

Bacteria used for composting solid waste can be used to produce nitrous oxide, a potential rocket fuel. If we could colonize the colonies of microbes of the walls of dwellings, they would have redesigned the carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen and provide a self-healing layer of radiation protection.

Looking to the future, you can see that in the end all these synthetic organisms will be made in the form of control systems for ships and settlements, to be in the form of biosensors and biocontrollers that will respond to such things as increased levels of radiation, and control processes of other synthetic organisms.

However, all this guesswork. Before any of these apps will see the light, it is necessary to solve a lot of problems. Last but not least the fact that while all this is theoretically possible, tools for implementation we have on Earth yet. To make it work in the harsh conditions of space will be even more difficult.

Extremophilic microbes that survive in the most inhospitable places in the world like deep-sea hot springs or beneath the Arctic ice, can serve as a pointer for synthetic biologists looking to create more resilient organisms. But to combine such characteristics with useful abilities production of desired substances — a truly Herculean challenge.

And none of the known organisms could not adapt to life in the absence of earth's gravity. Experiments involving microbes sent into space, show that most of them do not feel very well and are in the mode of reduction of damage, which disables many inconsequential to the life of the system. Namely, these systems are likely to work on the production of the desired substances. To understand how the microbes to create good conditions for work in space, either due to the unavailability of the space.

However, thanks to new technologies like CRISPR and methods of creating synthetic forms of life, there is hope that these problems will soon be overcome. And it will be useful not only for astronauts but also for those who remain on Earth.

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