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Mars seen in 2018. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI

Hard-working microbes engineered to produce strong spider silk could one day aid astronauts living on Mars.

Why it matters: NASA is looking for ways to reduce the amount of material needed to launch to space for long-duration missions. Engineering microbes to make spider silk could aid in that effort.

Spider silk — which can be as strong as steel, but incredibly light — could be useful on Mars, where space explorers might use it in place of heavy materials that would be expensive and unwieldy to transport from Earth. They could use it to build strong fabrics and possibly even surgical sutures, for example.

  • A lab led by Fuzhong Zhang at Washington University in St. Louis has produced a spider silk made by microbes that is as tough and strong as natural spider silk.
  • They're working to scale up production of the spider silk to "be able to produce meters worth, kilometers-long fibers continuously and relatively easily within the lab," Zhang told Axios.

Yes, but: Creating enough spider silk isn't the only challenge ahead for this work. The spider silk production process needs to be contained inside its own fermentor to reduce the risk of contamination, according to Zhang, which could be a technical challenge on Mars.

  • NASA will also need to protect these microbes from radiation during the journey to Mars.
  • Another NASA lab is also working to create an easily produced food source for the microbes to fuel their work on the Red Planet.

Go deeper

DiDi to delist from NYSE under Chinese govt pressure

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese ride-hail giant DiDi said it will delist from the New York Stock Exchange, following a Chinese government crackdown on foreign listings.

Why it matters: This reflects how geopolitical tensions are bleeding into the capital markets.

Updated 31 mins ago - Health

Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states

A healthcare worker inserts a Covid-19 rapid test into a machine in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Daniel Brenner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hawaii became on Thursday the fifth state to confirm the newly discovered Omicron variant after New York announced five new cases earlier in the day.

The latest: In Hawaii, the variant was found in an unvaccinated O'ahu resident with moderate symptoms who had previously been infected with COVID-19, per a state health department statement. The variant has also been confirmed in California, Colorado and Minnesota.

Senate Dems receive max donations from Nord Stream 2 lobbyist

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A major Democratic donor and Nord Stream 2 lobbyist has made maximum campaign contributions this year to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and vulnerable Senate Democrats, campaign finance records show.

Why it matters: If pressure from the White House to vote against reimposing sanctions on the Russia-backed natural gas pipeline weren't enough, Democrats who back such legislation also will be at loggerheads with one of their party's top fundraisers.