Fish Scales and Fungi Could Help Mankind Build Houses on Mars. Martian Soil Holds the Key

File image of Mars / News18.

File image of Mars / News18.

These Martian houses, according to a team of scientists, would be built from substances that are generally found in fish scales and certain fungi. The magic material is called Chitin.

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  • Last Updated: September 17, 2020, 1:52 PM IST


Bricks and mortar may build sturdy homes on Earth, but Mars could have houses built from fish scales. Don’t start picturing a fisherman industriously plucking scales out of a fish to store as building materials. These houses, according to a Singaporean team of scientists, would be built from substances that are generally found in fish scales and certain fungi. The magic material is called Chitin.

On Earth, this compound is one of the most widely used organic polymers. But on Mars, mixed with Martian soil, it can potentially become sturdy and stable enough to make building material and tools.

The study was released on PLOS ONE with the title “Martian biolith: A bioinspired regolith composite for closed-loop extra-terrestrial manufacturing.” The lead scientists are Ng Shiwei, Stylianos Dritsas and Javier G Fernandez.

The study is done with a long-term future planning. It’s no secret that USA’s NASA and other space organisations have plans to revisit the lunar surface. From private space companies like SpaceX to NASA, everyone wants to eventually make a habitat on Mars. Given these competitive space plans, space exploration mission will most likely be more prolonged than before.

Therefore, for these missions, and eventually a human settlement, housing is a basic necessity for the Earthlings to survive on non-accommodating, extra-terrestrial environments.

The researchers claim that Chitin can be a one-stop solution for a multitude of needs. Chitin is a primary component of cell walls in fungi, the exoskeletons of arthropods, such as crustaceans and insects, and the scales of fish and amphibians. Due to its ubiquity, chitin can be part of any artificial ecosystem.

The organic polymer doesn’t have to be carried from Earth. It can be sourced on the red planet by a process called bioconversion. Organic waste of insects and certain fungi can be accumulated on farms.

In their primary research, the team has constructed a wrench and a mini model of a Martian habitat with the resilience of plastics. Very similar to plastic, Chitin is transparent. The objects produced, therefore, would be similar to Earth plastics in both appearance and characteristics.

The production is energy efficient and can use general equipment that the astronauts would likely carry with them. The resultant product can replace bricks, mortar and wood to create safe housing. Solar flares on Mars can be deadly for Earthlings, therefore a strong, resilient material is a necessity for survival. Researchers claim that Chitin could be that material.

“The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban environments, but due to its efficiency, it is also the most efficient and scalable method to produce materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely scarce environment of a lifeless planet or satellite,” said Dr Fernandez.

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