We've all seen Thallus seaweed, although you may not realize what they are just by hearing the name. This is the green layer that accumulates on the surface of lakes or is thrown out on the beach. They are a group of lower plants that are seen almost everywhere on Earth.
Though they may be often ignored, they play a key role in life on the planet. For those asking how a bunch of seaweed matter at all for organic life, know that seaweed are responsible for producing at least half the oxygen that we breathe.
Recently, scientists discovered another exceptionally important application of seaweed.
Among the greatest challenges for a long human journey into space is to find a way to ensure the elements necessary for survival - food, waste removal, radiation protection, water and oxygen. If you're planning on spending years on a space ship, you cannot bring everything necessary. You'd have to cultivate it yourself.
"There are various solutions for every individual need but our studies show that seaweed can be the key to extended space travel. My group believes that it's possible to take care of nearly all the metabolic needs of the astronauts with just one system of seaweed, " says prof. Emily Matula from University of Colorado Boulder.
The scientist and her team have directed their efforts, as directed by NASA, toward developing a system that will allow for an extended space flight and for establishing a human colony on Mars.
The researchers have discovered that the use of seaweed may be more than promising. Firstly, seaweed can ensure most of the oxygen required in the ships headed for Mars, as well as for an eventual future colony there. Additionally they can serve as a valuable food source, with research showing that lower plants provide 80% of the substances required by the human body.
But that's not all. Seaweed produce up to 100 times more fat in a given area in comparison to oil-bearing plants (soy, sunflower, rapeseed). This also makes them the ideal raw material for bio-fuel. This can ensure a full circle of production and growing, since they can also provide the energy needed for cultivation and use.
As well, seaweed can ensure the removal of waste. If human waste is used as a source of food for the plants, they will recycle nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen into a form the astronauts can eat. This can also be useful back on Earth.
"Countries with limited resources, such as India, are interested in using seaweed for removing industrial or human waste, " says Matula.
The scientists' research continues. Their efforts are focused on developing a way to use all of the potential benefits of the seaweed in one.
"We believe seaweed will provide us everything we need to start our conquering of space and this may happen by the year 2025, " concludes Matula.