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Biomining’ Microbes Could Extract Minerals From Asteroids

The asteroid-mining firm Deep Space Industries (DSI) is investigating the feasibility of injecting bioengineered microbes into space rocks far from Earth, to get a jump on processing their valuable resources.

The scientists working on the concept envision launching a small probe that DSI is developing, called Mothership, out to a promising near-Earth asteroid in deep space. Mothership would be carrying a number of tiny CubeSats, one of which would deploy and spiral down to the asteroid's surface.

The CubeSat would then inject into the asteroid a low-temperature fluid laden with bacteria, which would propagate through cracks and fissures generated by the injection process. Over time, the microbes — genetically engineered to process metals efficiently — would break down harmful compounds within the asteroid and/or transform resources into different chemical states that are more amenable to extraction.

"The use of self-sustaining biomining mitigates the need for sustained docking, anchoring, drilling, processing or other technically challenging traditional mining approaches," Joseph Grace, of DSI and NASA's Ames Research Center, told Space.com.

"This is really out there; it's a special project," he said of the bacterial injection idea. "But even if it doesn't pan out, we'll still learn really interesting things about what the limits of life are."

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.