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Exploiting a perchlorate-tolerant desert cyanobacterium to support bacterial growth for in situ resource utilization on Mars

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Daniela Billi
Department of Biology, Laboratory of Astrobiology and Molecular Biology of Cyanobacteria, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy
Beatriz Gallego Fernandez
Department of Biology, Laboratory of Astrobiology and Molecular Biology of Cyanobacteria, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy
Claudia Fagliarone
Department of Biology, Laboratory of Astrobiology and Molecular Biology of Cyanobacteria, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy
Salvatore Chiavarini
ENEA Casaccia, SSPT-PROTER Division, Rome, Italy
Lynn Justine Rothschild
NASA Ames Research Center, Space Science and Astrobiology Division, Moffett Field, California, USA
E-mail address:


The presence of perchlorate in the Martian soil may limit in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technologies to support human outposts. In order to exploit the desiccation, radiation-tolerant cyanobacterium Chroococcidopsis in Biological Life Support Systems based on ISRU, we investigated the perchlorate tolerance of Chroococcidopsis sp. CCMEE 029 and its derivative CCMEE 029 P-MRS. This strain was obtained from dried cells mixed with Martian regolith simulant and exposed to Mars-like conditions during the BIOMEX space experiment. After a 55-day exposure of up to 200 mM perchlorate ions, a tolerance threshold value of 100 mM perchlorate ions was identified for both Chroococcidopsis strains. After 40-day incubation, a Mars-relevant perchlorate concentration of 2.4 mM perchlorate ions, provided as a 60 and 40% mixture of Mg- and Ca-perchlorate, had no negative effect on the growth rate of the two strains. A proof-of-concept experiment was conducted using Chroococcidopsis lysate in ISRU technologies to feed a heterotrophic bacterium, i.e. an Escherichia coli strain capable of metabolizing sucrose. The sucrose content was fivefold increased in Chroococcidopsis cells through air-drying and the yielded lysate successfully supported the bacterial growth. This suggested that Chroococcidopsis is a suitable candidate for ISRU technologies to support heterotrophic BLSS components in a Mars-relevant perchlorate environment that would prove challenging to many other cyanobacteria, allowing a ‘live off the land’ approach on Mars.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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