Microscopic images of cells in space.

Kombucha: Ally for the Moon and Mars

Science and Research

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ESA is testing kombucha cultures, renowned for their fertilizing properties and potential health benefits, to test their fitness in space. These cultures hold great promise for supporting humans on the Moon and Mars.

Several biofilms found in kombucha have shown promise in surviving Earth’s harshest environments, prompting scientists to explore its ability to withstand extreme environmental conditions. Microorganisms are considered the biological factories of life support systems that sustain themselves in space habitats.

Kombucha in space

Expose R2 to space

ESA’s Expose Center is conducting experiments on the International Space Station to investigate how bacteria live and survive in space and in simulated martian conditions.

Samples fly outside the Space Station. The results show that the microorganism, a cyanobacterium, was able to repair its DNA and resume cell division even after being exposed to cosmic rays, even resisting the damaging iron ion that causes severe cell damage.

In many living things, tissues regenerate like human skin or bacterial cells by continuously replicating through the process of cell division. How these cells stop dividing and repair the DNA damage is still a mystery, but researchers suspect that a specific gene – the sulA gene – may play a role. The sulA gene acts as a traffic signal in cells. It stops cells from dividing until they repair their DNA, like a red light stops cars from moving. It is an important part of the cell’s defense system, ensuring that any damage is repaired before cells can continue to multiply.

Another experiment revealed that the cell clusters provide a small habitat for small species, suggesting that some cells can ‘walk’ in space between the larger cell clusters that protect the passengers.

Fluorescence microscopy images reveal cell damage under various conditions.

Planetary security is a set of rules to prevent dangerous biological and chemical contamination from Earth from reaching other planets, moons, or aliens, and vice versa. Experiments like these can help to understand how groups of cells and biofilms protect themselves in extreme environments, to prevent pollution and to prevent pollution of local missions. They may be used to protect living things on long journeys into space.

Viruses can be valuable ‘model radiation’. By understanding how these microorganisms respond, researchers can gain knowledge to understand and improve human health and well-being. This includes developing strategies to protect astronauts in space.

To the Moon and Mars

The state of the lunar surface

Future Artemis missions to the lunar Gateway may involve harvesting microorganisms from the Moon.

“Cultures show great potential for supporting long-term human presence on the Moon and Mars,” says Petra Rettberg, Head of the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) astrobiology group.

“Because of their ability to produce oxygen and act as biological factories, this biotechnology can greatly improve future missions and human space exploration efforts,” added ESA deep space exploration scientist Nicol Caplin.

I hope to see our samples attached to the Moon Gate in the future or perhaps used on the surface of the Moon and beyond. Until then, we will continue to explore the possibilities in our biological culture. “

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