Microorganisms are employed on Earth to mine economically important elements from rocks, including the rare earth elements (REEs), used in electronic industries and alloy production. The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, in cooperation with the UK Center for Astrobiology in Edinburgh (C. Cockell, scientific coordinator of BioRock) and the Belgian Nuclear Research Center in Mol carried out the first biomining experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) and could demonstrate that microorganisms, here Sphingomonas desiccabilis, are able to extract REEs from basaltic rock in microgravity and in simulated Mars and Earth gravity. These results enable future in situ resource utilization and will support the long-term stay of astronauts on Moon and Mars.
Link to the paper in Nature Communications:
Space station biomining experiment demonstrates rare earth element extraction in microgravity and Mars gravity