What Off World Farms Need Are Termites And Ants?

Posted by on Mar 30, 2011 in Plants And Animals | 0 comments

Since global magnetic fields are a rare asset (at least upon terrestrial worlds), off world settlers will have to rely upon ants instead of bees to raise food throughout the Sol System.

While future colonists may not object to partnering with ants (provided they are not poisonous), they may also want to consider using a pesky insect loathed by homeowners and carpenters alike.

“The areas of the farm where we didn’t apply pesticides produced a 36 percent higher yield of wheat than the control area,” said Dr Nathan Lo, from the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences, the co-author of a paper published today in Nature Communications.

“There are two main reasons we think this has happened. Firstly, the termites and ants create a lot of tunnels under the soil when they forage away from their nests, and this helps water absorption. This is particularly important in dry areas where rain is very sporadic.

“Secondly, bacteria in termite guts are able to fix significant amounts of nitrogen from the air. Some of this nitrogen is transferred to termite tunnels, helping to improve plant growth.” (University of Sydney)

Using these two organisms, residents upon Mars, Mercury, Luna (aka the Moon) and Callisto can increase the amount of grain they can raise without having to rely upon heavy imports from the home world.

Combined with the promise of peepoo bags (for fertilizer), off world colonists may be able to establish thriving communities upon other worlds, enabling humanity to quickly populate our star system without fear of famines due to lack of Earthly supplies.

Note: Colonies boasting large bamboo forests however may not like the idea of hosting termites in their own backyard (for obvious reasons), however since ants prey upon termites, the former could be used as a population control for the latter.

Via: Physorg.com, Image Credit: Orkin

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Raising Radiation Resistant Planets Off World

Posted by on Mar 7, 2011 in Plants And Animals, Russia | 0 comments

As glorious as it would be to live upon another moon, planet or asteroid, the reality is that most of the 83 spheres that dance around our Sun are far too radioactive to raise plants upon without heavy shielding.

However a recent discovery by scientists near Chernobyl may help us not only raise radiation resistant crops off world, but also enable us to transport grain throughout the solar system.

Radioactivity lingering in the soil near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident has not prevented life from creeping back at the Ukrainian site. Now researchers have discovered that oil-rich flax plants grown in the highly radioactive soil can apparently adapt and thrive with few problems.

The first generation survived with changes in barely 5 percent of the plant proteins, and researchers have also collected results from a second generation of flax grown in a radioactive plot of land near Chernobyl. But a mystery remains as to how the flax – a source of plant fiber and dietary oil – has adapted biochemically to the highly radioactive environment. Either way, researchers have been surprised to see that “the radioactive Chernobyl area is not a desert, but is full of life,” according to Martin Hajduch, senior scientist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology. (Astrobiology Magazine)

If scientists can find a way to port the genes of these resistant plants into other crops (i.e. wheat, barely, or a few fruit trees), then humans will be able to raise food upon worlds like Mars without having to resort to expensive shielding.

Future settlers however will still have to import terrestrial fertilizer (or create their own) in order to raise gardens as the soil upon select worlds like the Moon as well as Mars is far too radioactive or toxic for terrestrial life.

Image: Soybean plant growing in radioactive soil, Credit: M. Hajduch

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Mars: A Paradise For Plants (But Not Animals And People?)

Posted by on Aug 13, 2009 in Blog, Mars, Plants And Animals, Solar Essay | 1 comment

Update (12/23): Credited image (full of microscopic life) below.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that the red planet is the future of humanity, one thing is probably certain–whether it takes a decade or a millennium, humanity will probably settle upon that dusty crimson world.

If humanity ever does gain the necessary technology to terraform Mars into a habitable world (air pressure and temperature wise), we may discover that although the red planet makes an excellent habitat for terrestrial vegetation, it may make an extremely poor one for colonists and animals.


One of the key ingredients for animal life on our planet is oxygen. Without it, most creatures would experience a short (but painful) death, leaving the insects to rule the planet.

Thanks to the laws of photosynthesis, plants are able to produce a large enough volume of oxygen to enable animals, space geeks and people to thrive upon planet Earth.

Most of this oxygen however does not come from land plants, such as trees, grass, etc., but rather from a single celled organism called Phytoplankton which contributes between 70% and 90% of the worlds oxygen from the ocean.

Diatoms through the microscope

Image Credit: Prof. Gordon T. Taylor, Stony Brook University, USA (via NOAA Photo Library)

While land plants do contribute their fare share of oxygen for our planetary survival, they may not be as effective on Mars which receives half the amount of sunlight as Earth (which could easily translate into less oxygen for our lungs).

Although Mars currently lacks large oceans like its bigger bluer brother, the red planet does contain an abundance of water that if melted could flood the planet.

While this may make it an ideal candidate to host Phytoplankton within Martian waters, it may not be a realistic scenario considering that the red planet could contain an abundance of perchlorate within its soil, which is deadly to most terrestrial life forms.


Image: Soil samples from “Snow White” trench, taken on July 8, 2008, were found to contain perchlorate after analysis in the Phoenix Mars Lander’s Wet Chemistry Laboratory. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University)

If Phytoplankton were to even survive within future Martian oceans, humanity would probably have to find some way to heavily filter out perchlorate from the soil in order to prevent it from contaminating the future “red” oceans of Mars.

Although these two dilemma’s may not be enough to discourage humanity from creating an eden out of this crimson world, the lack of a sizable moon may present a unique challenge for our rowdy species.

On Earth, the Moon (via gravitational tugging) helps our oceans distribute oxygen rich water to stagnant areas critical for some organisms to survive.


Image Credit: How Stuff Works.com

Without a strong gravitational pull future Martian oceans could eventually become stagnant overall, making it extremely difficult (if not impossible) for certain species to survive, which could limit which animals we could bring thanks to the circle of life.

Even though these three challenges may prevent humanity from turning Mars into a second Earth, it probably would not be enough to prevent the masses from settling this planet.

While large forests may be able to survive on the planet due to a (future) rich atmosphere of COs, humans may have to be content living within biospheres along with their animal friends (pets and pigs alike).

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3 House Plants You May See On Mars, Callisto And Saturn's Titan

Posted by on Feb 17, 2009 in Blog, Health, Plants And Animals, Science | 0 comments

Whether it takes a few decades or a few centuries, humans will probably populate the solar system along with a few animal friends such as dogs, pigs and ants.

While one may also expect bamboo to dominate much of the visible plant life (at least as far as off world forests go), we may find space colony offices filled with a few specific house plants.

(GreenSpaces Blog) We have tried and tested these plants for 15 years at Paharpur Business Centre and Software Technology Incubator Park (PBC™ – STIP) in New Delhi, India. It is a 20 year old, 50,000 ft2 building, with over 1,200 plants for 300 building occupants.

PBC™ – STIP is rated the healthiest building in Delhi by the Government of India.* Their study found that there is a 42% probability of increasing blood oxygen by 1% if one is inside the building for 10 hours. […]

We saved over 15% in energy costs as we did not have to inject 15-20 cfm of fresh air in to the building as suggested by ASHRAE – an industry standard.

Unless one is fortunate enough to live on the Moon, oxygen will be considered a precious commodity off world.

Despite their fancy names, these three plants may not only help keep air fresh and clean, but they could also help reduce the overall cost and energy needed to maintain a space colony (which is good news for space settlers heading for Mars, Callisto and Titan).

While this may mean that off world settlers will have to hire an extra gardener to ensure that these plants are growing up healthy and strong, future colonists may welcome the extra greenery (as it may help keep them from becoming too home sick).

(Hat Tip: LifeHacker)

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Dogs: The Number One (Future) Solar Pet?

Posted by on Oct 8, 2008 in Blog, Health, Plants And Animals, Solar Essay | 0 comments

Image Credit: The Jetsons

(Image Credit: Mzelle Laure via Wikipedia)

Space is big. Its “vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big.” It can also be a lonely place as well.

Scientists have been previously warning that long term trips on the Moon (or towards Mars) may place undo psychological burdens on future astronauts, especially if they can not see Earth.

Since launching astronauts with their families may not be an ideal solution (although this would resolve the loneliness factor), it may be wise to include Fido in order to help combat the feelings of isolation off world.

While some countries may look to dogs as their next meal, in the west canines are often regarded “as man’s best friend.”

So whether you are known to befriend the canine (or are indifferent towards it), here are several reasons why this hairy beast may dominate our solar system (as the number one pet that is).

The Love Factor

Regardless of whether an astronaut is stationed on the outskirts of Callisto or observing the stars from Mars, living hundreds of millions of kilometers away from the home world can easily make one depressed.

A future colonist will probably feel frustrated with their commanders on Earth (for whatever reasons), and may have a similar attitude towards their crew mates–especially if they are confined to live within radiation safe houses for extended periods.

In order to help prevent cabin fever from breaking out off world, allowing dogs to accompany future colonists may be a wise idea, as most canines are known to show enthusiasm around the presence of their owners, which may help them feel appreciated millions of kilometers from home.

Although other animals may purr or even cuddle, dogs will often shout (or rather bark) their praises at seeing their owners again–a feat that somehow does not get old for our canine friends.

Superior Intelligence

(Image Credit: Ang on Aclaire.vox.com)

Many animals on our planet are known to boast measurable intelligence, but only one species seems to have the discipline to “master” digital technology.

(Suite 101) In a study at the University of Vienna in Austria, dogs used touch screen computers to show that they could categorize photographs. They were trained with treats to select a dog picture over a landscape picture. When they were shown a different set of dog and landscape pictures, they continued to select the dog pictures, demonstrating that they could apply earlier learning to a different situation. Researchers tested further by presenting the dogs with contradictory information to see if they were capable of forming concepts. When shown pictures of an empty landscape and a landscape with a dog, they continued to select the picture with the dog.

While this may seem like a non-factor to pet owners favoring other species, the fact that these canines can be trained to handle technical equipment may make them favorable pets when compared to their feline friends (and perhaps even pigs).

Safety And Security

(Image Credit: Kjetil via Wikipedia)

It does not matter whether one establishes large colonies upon Jupiter’s Ganymede or on the Sun baked world of Mercury, crime (however small) will always be a factor when establishing outposts on another world.

Since its likely that most colonies will probably reside within biodomes (assuming they are not underground altogether), which means using weapons slinging projectiles (i.e. guns) may not be a good idea, as punching too many holes in the walls could endanger the entire colony.

Even though one could always train the future colony’s security force in martial arts, it may be easier to use canines to help enforce the law.

Often seen  as a major deterrent against crime, dogs can help off world security forces control raging crowds (in case the settlers ever decide to riot), as well as headbutt potential criminals (in order to avoid severely injuring the would be offender).

The Nose Knows

(Image Credit: Paul167 via Wikipedia)

Although a few worlds like Callisto and Titan may provide offer some relief from space radiation (from our Sun as well as beyond), many outposts will probably have to create portable magnetic shields to protect themselves above ground.

While artificial magnetic fields may enable us to survive off world, it may not provide full protection for future settlers which means that cancer rates on more radioactive worlds will probably be a lot higher than on Earth.

Since importing cancer detecting equipment to every facility (on every moon, planet and asteroid) may be extremely expensive, it may be easier to train (and deploy) dogs to sniff out the cancer instead.

(Nation Geographic) “Our study provides compelling evidence that cancers hidden beneath the skin can be detected simply by [dogs] examining the odors of a person’s breath,” said Michael McCulloch, who led the research. […]

“Cancer cells emit different metabolic waste products than normal cells,” Broffman said. “The differences between these metabolic products are so great that they can be detected by a dog’s keen sense of smell, even in the early stages of disease.” [said Nicholas Broffman, executive director of the Pine Street Foundation.] […]

By scent alone, the canines identified 55 lung and 31 breast cancer patients from those of 83 healthy humans.

The results of the study showed that the dogs could detect breast cancer and lung cancer between 88 and 97 percent of the time.

Using dogs to identify cancer within patients early can go a long ways to helping future doctors treat the disease and hopefully cure it as well.


While it would be silly to suggest that other species on Earth would not ultimately find themselves exported off world across the solar system (like pigs), the future may see the canine family accompany humanity not only throughout the outer reaches of our solar system, but perhaps into the next star system as well.

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Solar Bamboo Forests

Posted by on Jun 10, 2008 in Blog, Plants And Animals, Solar Essay | 4 comments

Image Credit: China Daily BBS

(Note: Inspired by Ian O’Neill of AstroEngine, Image Credit: Paul Vlaar)

If one were able to measure the breadth of our solar system from the surface of the Sun to the distant orbit of Pluto, it would measure approximately 7 billion kilometers (or just under 50 Astronomical units).

While most of these worlds will probably be inhabited sparsely, some of the larger worlds in our solar system will probably be home to tens of millions (if not billions) of colonists, not to mention “zillions” of plants and animals.

Whether future residents choose to terraform their global habitats, or reside within biospheres instead, they will probably need a way to import some organic beauty and insert it upon their barren new homes.

Even though future settlers could simply grow a few flowers or bushes, they may choose to raise a forest in order to mimic life upon their Earthen cradle. Since many trees take decades to reach maturity, future colonists may opt to grow bamboo forests instead.

Sometimes seen as a pest in the west, bamboo is highly respected within Eastern cultures, which may have something to do with bamboos unique ability to grow very fast, ranging from 30 centimeters a day to (in one case) over four feet in 24 hours.

Their fast growth rate would make it easy for settlers to establish dense forests within a year (or two), making these outposts more appealing to not only families, but scientists needing a break from “all things metal.”

While their fast growth and beauty may appeal to the artist, the bamboo’s practicality may appeal to the pragmatist.

Despite the fact that other trees may grow thicker (and sometimes higher) than bamboo, very few (if any) can match the amount of oxygen generated by this eastern tree.

(Image Credit: Environmental Bamboo Foundation)

Bamboos are known to produce 35% more oxygen than their tree companions, as well as absorb more CO2.

If included within future space habitats, these fast growing trees could help reduce the cost of living away from Earth, as settlers would not have to import as much oxygen from Earth or the Moon.

Although off world inhabitants will probably view metal as the primary building material for outside the outpost, bamboo wood may prove to be an excellent source for building material within space colonies.

Often known for its “strength and toughness” (at least with some species), bamboo could enable settlers to build furniture (such as chairs, desks and tables), eliminating the need for importing these items from Earth (which can be quite expensive).

If building furniture appeals to the future solar craftsman, then eating bamboo shoots may appeal to the stomach.

(Image: Bamboo shoots (or sprouts) at a Japanese Supermarket. Credit: Chris 73 via Wikipedia)

Despite the fact that most bamboo species would be considered toxic to ones health, there is at least one species that may provide a source of nourishment for future settlers.

Since most worlds orbiting our star system lack a global magnetic field, scientist would have to depend upon ants to pollinate the flowers of these future bamboo forests, not to mention provide plenty of water for them to drink.

While it would not be surprising to see colonists importing (and planting) other trees upon worlds like Mars, Ganymede and Callisto, it may not be an uncommon sight to behold thousands of bamboo forests upon dozens of solar worlds.

Update: Edited a few words for grammar and clarity.

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