In Brief

How bacteria from tea could help colonise Mars

Scientists say they can make 'wonder material' that could create livable conditions in space

Students and scientists at Imperial College London have found a way to modify the bacteria found in Kombucha tea to one day help humans to colonise Mars.

The new method gives researchers the ability to manufacture a "wonder material" called bacterial cellulose on demand, explains the Daily Telegraph.

Bacterial cellulose is currently harvested and used in a range of products, including materials for headphones, ingredients in cosmetics and occasionally as a leather substitute in clothes.

But scientists have now developed the DNA tools to control and shape a strain of the bacteria found in Kombucha tea.

The ability to grow and shape the cellulose means astronauts could potentially develop the material to start building components of human colonies on other planets once they arrive, rather than transporting ready-made materials with them, says the Telegraph.

The technique could also be used to develop fabric with in-built sensors that could change colour as it detects toxins, says the Imperial College team.

"Bacterial cellulose is a remarkable material that is malleable, safe and strong. We believe the tools developed by the students will take manufacturing of this product into the 21st century," said study co-author Dr Tom Ellis, who works at the department of bioengineering.

In the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team says the next step would be to work with Nasa to understand how best to develop the material in large quantities.

"The real big achievement here is that this was a project from a team of undergraduates that has now become a major research paper," Dr Ellis added.

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