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For Martian Fuel

Microbes, including a bioengineered strain of Escherichia coli, could help produce rocket fuel on Mars, Gizmodo reports.

Researchers from Georgia Tech suggest that a Mars-specific rocket fuel could be produced using a combination sunlight, carbon dioxide, and frozen water — all present on the Red Planet — alongside cyanobacteria and engineered E. coli. As they report in Nature Communications, the photosynthetic cyanobacteria would convert carbon dioxide into sugars that the E. coli can then use to produce 2,3-butanediol.

Gizmodo notes that 2,3-butanediol isn't the strongest propellent and that NASA has typically expected that methane would be needed to make rocket fuel on Mars. But the researchers say 2,3-butanediol would work in Mars' lower gravity. "You need a lot less energy for lift-off on Mars, which gave us the flexibility to consider different chemicals that aren't designed for rocket launch on Earth," Pamela Peralta-Yahya, an associate professor at Georgia Tech, says in a press release.

The researchers are next examining whether cyanobacteria can be grown under Martian conditions.