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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

Exclusive: Houston mayor to lead Black mayors group

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a private funeral for George Floyd. Photo: Godofredo A. Vásquez/Pool/Getty Images

The mayor of the city where George Floyd was raised is taking over a group that represents 500 Black mayors in the U.S. amid national pressure to revamp police departments.

Why it matters: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will become the new president of the African American Mayors Association as municipalities across the country examine police reforms and deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Delivery industry sees biggest monthly job losses in more than 20 years

Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The pandemic's biggest job winner is losing steam.

Driving the news: People who deliver packages to businesses and homes — classified as "couriers and messengers" by the Labor Department — saw the industry's biggest monthly job losses in more than 20 years in April.

FDA authorizes Pfizer COVID vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds

Photo: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for 12- to 15-year-old adolescents, the agency announced on Monday.

Why it matters: The emergency authorization marks a critical milestone in the push to get more Americans vaccinated and fully reopen schools for in-person learning this fall.