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Genetically engineered microbes could be designed to produce water, oxygen, food, and even rocket fuel, from raw materials found on the Moon or Mars. The ability to create these vital supplies on the surface of other worlds will eliminate the need to carry the supplies, reducing launch costs and risks to astronauts.

Aerospace organizations, both private and public, are currently envisioning trips to other planets, carrying vast quantities of cargo. One rule-of-thumb for human space missions is that for every pound of cargo to be sent into space, another 99 pounds of equipment, fuel, and supplies must be lifted off the ground. Excess weight not only costs additional money, but also raises risks more astronauts, as larger engines are needed to carry the spacecraft beyond the atmosphere of the Earth.

"Our analysis indicates that (synthetic biology) has a good chance of being a disruptive space technology by providing substantial savings over current techniques. One goal of our paper is to advocate for an expanded role for synthetic biology in space science, with a view toward future mission deployment," Amor Menezes, a postdoctoral student in the Institute for Quantitative Biosciences at UC Berkeley, said.

Biological production of engineered organisms could reduce the mass of required equipment and supplies between 26 and 85 percent, according to researchers.

It will require a lot more than synthetic biology to live, much less survive on Mars. To read more, click here.