Space station biomining experiment demonstrates rare earth element extraction in microgravity and Mars gravity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Charles S. Cockell
  • Rosa Santomartino
  • Kai Finster
  • Annemiek C. Waajen
  • Lorna J. Eades
  • Ralf Moeller
  • Petra Rettberg
  • Felix Fuchs
  • Jason Hatton
  • Luca Parmitano
  • Jutta Krause
  • Andrea Koehler
  • Nicol Caplin
  • Lobke Zuijderduijn
  • René Demets
  • Alessandro Mariani
  • Stefano S. Pellari
  • Fabrizio Carubia
  • Giacomo Luciani
  • Michele Balsamo
  • Valfredo Zolesi
  • Jeannine Doswald-Winkler
  • Magdalena Herova
  • Bernd Rattenbacher
  • Jennifer Wadsworth
  • Craig R. Everroad

Institutes & Expert groups

  • University of Edinburgh
  • ESTEC - European Space Research and technology Center - ESA
  • University of Edinburgh - UK Centre for Astrobiology
  • Aarhus University
  • DLR - German Aerospace Center
  • Kayser Italia S.r.l.
  • BIOTESC - Biotechnology Space Support Center, Hochschule Luzern Technik und Architektur
  • NASA - Ames Research Center

Documents & links


Microorganisms are employed to mine economically important elements from rocks, including the rare earth elements (REEs), used in electronic industries and alloy production. We carried out a mining experiment on the International Space Station to test hypotheses on the bioleaching of REEs from basaltic rock in microgravity and simulated Mars and Earth gravities using three microorganisms and a purposely designed biomining reactor. Sphingomonas desiccabilis enhanced mean leached concentrations of REEs compared to non-biological controls in all gravity conditions. No significant difference in final yields was observed between gravity conditions, showing the efficacy of the process under different gravity regimens. Bacillus subtilis exhibited a reduction in bioleaching efficacy and Cupriavidus metallidurans showed no difference compared to non-biological controls, showing the microbial specificity of the process, as on Earth. These data demonstrate the potential for space biomining and the principles of a reactor to advance human industry and mining beyond Earth.


Original languageEnglish
Article number5523
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2020


  • ISS, International Space Station, Rare earth elements, Cupriavidus

ID: 6978579