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How is plastic produced from urine?

How is plastic produced from urine?

Where did the idea come from?

My research group has been cultivating yeast cells for some time to produce substances that are the product of fat metabolism in the cells. Among other things, PHA, a special type of polyester, looks like this. Our yeast is highly resistant and can survive in different conditions. When we read about what astronauts needed, we realized we could use yeast to produce the right molecules from astronaut urine.

What raw materials do yeasts need for this?

For carbon, which can be extracted from carbon dioxide; Nitrogen, which can be obtained from the urine of astronauts; Oxygen from water or from cyanobacterial metabolism, and some other nutrients. We incorporated a bacterial gene into yeast, with which a polymer can be created from the intermediate product of lipid metabolism.

Plastic can be produced from polymers. How much yeast is needed to produce, for example, a can opener on a spaceship?


It probably wouldn't work on an airplane, but it would probably work on Mars. Let's say the can opener weighs 20 deca, then we currently need about 650-700 liters of yeast cell solution. Most of the cell's biomass – which is not plastic – will be used to reproduce additional organisms. If we can improve our technology, we can reduce the amount required to 20-25 litres.

A new world record has been set!  An astronaut spends more than 1,000 days in space

A new world record has been set! An astronaut spends more than 1,000 days in space

Wouldn't it be a problem to have so many microorganisms on board a spaceship? Isn't this dangerous to the health of astronauts?

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The yeast we work with is generally considered safe. However, some believe that the conditions prevailing in outer space make organisms pathogenic, and thus they become pathogenic. We still have to investigate this aspect extensively.

There is a lot of plastic on Earth, and they certainly wouldn't want to start a problem with that on Mars. This plastic must be recycled.


PHA is essentially biodegradable and is metabolized by yeast.

You are now in your early forties. Maybe you'd still like to see people on Mars using your style of tool making. When could this happen?

Certainly not on the first missions that will be launched over the next ten to fifteen years.

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