Long ago, a clan of hardy microbes called cyanobacteria helped terraform the lifeless Earth into a vibrant biosphere. Today, the very same critters could be the key to colonizing Mars.
Plants are going to have a tough time on the Red Planet’s hostile surface, but cyanobacteria have coped with extreme environments for eons. A paper led by astrobiologist Lynn Rothschild of NASA’s Ames Research Institute argues that we can harness these tiny photosynthesis machines to produce many of the resources we’ll need to survive, from food and oxygen to metals and medicine. Here are all the ways cyanobacteria can help us build a Martian colony.