Can nitrification bring us to Mars? The role of microbial interactions on nitrogen recovery in Life Support Systems
The development cost-effective life support technologies is a highly relevant topic for space biology. Currently, food and water supply during space flights is currently restricted by technical and economic constraints: daily water consumption of an average crew of 6 members is about 72 L, with an estimated cost of 2,160,000 d-1. To reduce these costs and sustain long term space missions, the European Space Agency designed MELiSSA, an artificial ecosystem based on 5 compartments for the recycling gas, liquid and solid waste (Lasseur et al., 2011). In the CI stage, crew and inedible solid waste is fermented by thermophilic anaerobic bacteria, producing volatile fatty acids (VFAs), CO2 and ammonium (NH4+). In the CII compartment the VFAs are converted into edible biomass, using the photoheterotroph Rodospirillum rubrum. Afterwards, the nitrifying CIII unit converts toxic levels of ammonia/ammonium into nitrate, which enables the effluent to be fed to the photoautotrohopic CIV stage, that provides food and oxygen for the crew (Godia et al., 2002). The highest nitrogen flux in a Life Support System is human urine. As nitrate is the preferred form of nitrogen fertilizer for hydroponic plant cultivation, urine nitrification is an essential process in the MELiSSA loop. The development of the Additional Unit for Water Treatment or Urine NItrification ConsortiUM (UNICUM) requires the selection and characterization of the microorganisms that will be used. The key microorganisms in the biological treatment of urine are heterotrophs, for the hydrolysis of urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide, Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB), for the ammonia oxidation into nitrite and Nitrite Oxidizing Bacteria (NOB), for the conversion of nitrite into nitrate. The strains were selected according to predefined safety (non sporogenic and BSL 1) and metabolic (Ks, μmax) criteria. To evaluate functional consortia for space applications, ureolysis, nitritation and nitratation of the selected microorganisms and synthetic communities were elucidated. Additionally, urine is a matrix with a high salt content. Unhydrolised urine's EC ranges from 1.1 to 33.9 mS/cm, the mean value being 21.5 mS/cm (Marickar, 2010), while hydrolysed urine can reach higher levels, up to 75 mS/cm. This conditions could inhibit microbial metabolism, therefore the effect of salinity on urine nitrification was also elucidated.
Source (journal)
Communications in agricultural and applied biological sciences / Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Landbouwkundige en Toegepaste Biologische Wetenschappen. - Gent, 2003, currens
Gent : 2016
81:1(2016), p. 74-79
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Publications with a UAntwerp address
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Creation 16.05.2018
Last edited 15.07.2021
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