RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC) — A Virginia chemistry professor is growing plants on extraterrestrial materials in an already moderately successful attempt to develop and move microorganisms into space in a new discipline labeled “astroecology.”
Michael Mautner, Ph.D., a research professor of chemistry in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Humanities and Science, has been growing asparagus on meteorite materials as part of his belief that microbes and plants can develop in extraterrestrial environments. Mautner suggests that asteroids and meteorites contain levels of phosphate, nitrates and water to directly grow certain plants on other planets.
“We seek a higher meaning to our existence, and these insights allow us to define one. Belonging to organic gene/protein life implies that a human purpose is to safeguard and propagate life,” Mautner said in a press release. “This purpose is best achieved in space. Astroecology shows that with space resources, life can endure for trillions of future eons and expand greatly in the galaxy in quantity and diversity, and culturally.”
Mautner’s findings are ground-breaking as they could ultimately facilitate space plantation in a protected environment.
The VCU researcher believes that technology has advanced to the point that a dual push into the galaxy will be realized in the not-too-distant future. First, a large human population would begin “living in comfort in the solar system,” as a second wave of gene/protein organic life can grow and evolve with humans “further in the galaxy.”
“People have been talking about terraforming, but what I’m trying to do is give some concrete evidence that it’s possible to do this, that it’s possible to grow in extraterrestrial materials,” Mautner told Vice Motherboard. “What I’ve found is that a range of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and even asparagus and potato plants—can survive with the nutrients that are in extraterrestrial materials.”
Mautner has been grinding up rock to simulate extraterrestrial soils that can be placed on a “rating system” for how effective they could potentially be for future space farming.
“The conditions outside Earth are presumably anaerobic—that’s an order of magnitude harder to do,” he told Vice. “But, if we can find things that can grow in extraterrestrial materials under Earth conditions, you can start to talk about it. We can maybe start to use those materials in artificial, oxygen-containing environments.”
Mautner says that humans could be able to create mini-ecosystems within our lifetimes: “Maybe a mixture of more tolerant organisms and extremophiles that can adapt to various conditions,” adding that they could be placed into rockets and shot toward prospective planets for human habitation.
“If we start to manage these plants and microbes, we could help secure life on other planets for millions or trillions of years.”