September 27, 2017: PhD public defence - Bo Byloos - The interaction of bacteria with volcanic rocks on Earth and in space - UGent

Name: Bo Byloos

Date: September 27, 2017 16:00 h


Aula Ceremoniezaal
Room 06.01

Campus Aula
Volderstraat 9
9000 Gent


The interaction of bacteria with volcanic rocks on Earth and in space

Microorganisms can interact with minerals for sustaining their survival and growth. These microbe-mineral interactions are involved in bioweathering processes, and have already proved their relevance in agricultural and industrial applications such as enhancing soil fertility, biorestoration, bioremediation and biomining. More recently, microbe-mineral interactions have also become of interest for space exploration missions as they could generate nutrients from ‘in-situ material” (ISRU) such as the regolith and rocks. This will reduce the costs and dependency for supplies from Earth and could support a long-term human presence in space.


In our study, the interaction of the bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans CH34 with basalt, a volcanic moon-analog rock, was investigated. The bacterial presence on basalt and its impact on weathering, as well as the effect of basalt composition on nutrient leaching was studied. Differences in lava flow composition, as well as the age of the deposits contributed to shape the microbial communities in terrestrial volcanic rocks, which affects weathering rates and nutrient availability. Different basalt compositions were also shown to impact nutrient leaching and subsequently impact bacterial growth. In addition, survival and the potential impact of space environmental conditions such as microgravity on these interactions were determined, probing the potential of ISRU. Our results indicated that basalt had a positive effect on survival through the release of elements such as sodium, potassium, and phosphate, counteracting some of the detrimental effects of starvation. Space flight conditions in addition also a positive effect on survival while cells form less biofilm. This study contributes to a better understanding of microbe-mineral interactions, opening the door to future applications, in space, and on Earth.


  •  (UGent) Nico Boon
SCK•CEN mentors:
  • Natalie Leys
  • Rob Van Houdt

Click here for a list of obtained PhD degrees.