Fly on the wall: Insects may be building material on Mars

December 21, 2020 |

In Singapore, a team of researchers are evaluating how chitin—a material found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans and bugs—can help solve the material sourcing challenges associated with Mars colonization. 

Conventional building materials, such as concrete and steel, are astronomically expensive to send into space. To address the infrastructure needs of a such an expedition,, Javier Fernandez and his team have developed biolith—a material made from chitin, weak acid, and soil similar to that found on Mars. Tweaks to the formula has yielded several materials that could be useful in colonizing the unforgiving Martian environment. “We demonstrated that the material can do everything from making buildings to cutting to sealing so we wouldn’t need to send a different material for every purpose, Fernandez tells Science Line.  

There are a few kinks to work out, however, mostly surrounding the challenges of actually farming chitin on Mars, where water behaves unpredictably. Shrimp, a common source of chitin on Earth, is unlikely to thrive. But Fernandez believes black soldier flies may kill two birds with one stone—not only are the flies chitin-rich, but they could also operate as a waste management resource by converting Martian feces into compost. 

Their work was detailed in a recent issue of PLoS One. 

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Category: Chemicals & Materials

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