Four strains of bacteria which could help promote plant growth have been found in testing facilities onboard the ISS. One of the strains – Methylorubrum rhodesianum – was already known to scientists but three have been determined to be a “novel species”.
The three strains have been called IF7SW-B2T, IIF1SW-B5, and IIF4SW-B5 and are closely related to Methylobacterium indicum.
Methylobacterium species help to promote plant growth and are commonly found in soils on Earth.
Experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) believe the strains could help create the “fuel” needed for plant growth on Mars when humans eventually arrive.
Mars’ and Earth’s soil obviously differ in many ways.
One of the main differences is that Earth’s soil has much more moisture, which is better suited for plant growth.
But by creating a resilient fuel which can withstand the harsh Martian environment, it could help with colonisation of the Red Planet, according to the research published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran and Dr Nitin Kumar Singh of JPL said that the strains might possess “biotechnologically useful genetic determinants” to help grow crops on Mars.
The pair added: “To grow plants in extreme places where resources are minimal, isolation of novel microbes that help to promote plant growth under stressful conditions is essential.”
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In their study, the researchers said the discovery could potentially lead to more novel bacteria findings which could benefit humanity’s mission to Mars.
They wrote: “The whole genome sequence assembly of these three ISS strains reported here will enable the comparative genomic characterisation of ISS isolates with Earth counterparts in future studies.
“This will further aid in the identification of genetic determinants that might potentially be responsible for promoting plant growth under microgravity conditions and contribute to the development of self-sustainable plant crops for long-term space missions in future.”