The role of synthetic biology for in situ resource utilization (ISRU)

Astrobiology. 2012 Dec;12(12):1135-42. doi: 10.1089/ast.2012.0829. Epub 2012 Nov 9.


A persistent presence in space can either be supported from Earth or generate the required resources for human survival from material already present in space, so called "in situ material." Likely, many of these resources such as water or oxygen can best be liberated from in situ material by conventional physical and chemical processes. However, there is one critical resource required for human life that can only be produced in quantity by biological processes: high-protein food. Here, recent data concerning the materials available on the Moon and common asteroid types is reviewed with regard to the necessary materials to support the production of food from material in situ to those environments. These materials and their suitability as feedstock for the biological production of food are reviewed in a broad and general way such that terminology that is often a barrier to understanding such material by interdisciplinary readers is avoided. The waste products available as in situ materials for feasibility studies on the International Space Station are also briefly discussed. The conclusion is that food production in space environments from in situ material proven to exist there is quite feasible.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bioreactors
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Life Support Systems*
  • Minor Planets
  • Moon
  • Refuse Disposal
  • Space Flight*
  • Spirulina / metabolism
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid