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The surface of Mars has all we need to create oxygen and food, a new study suggests.
German researchers have shown a bacteria can grow in Mars-like soil and atmospheric conditions simulated on Earth.
Their findings suggest we could farm cyanobacteria to create oxygen and fuel for other life forms on the Red Planet.
The University of Bremen study comes as NASA's Perseverance probe is set to land on Mars and begin its hunt for signs of alien life on Thursday.
The scientists found that the hardy bacteria was able to grow in bioreactors that could be used on the surface of Mars.
They would act as "pressure cookers" to increase the planet's ultra-low atmospheric pressure and only use the nutrient-rich soils found on the surface.
Study lead author Dr Cyprien Verseux said: "Here we show that cyanobacteria can use gases available in the Martian atmosphere, at a low total pressure, as their source of carbon and nitrogen.
"Under these conditions, cyanobacteria kept their ability to grow in water containing only Mars-like dust and could still be used for feeding other microbes. This could help make long-term missions to Mars sustainable."
The researchers tested whether cyanobacteria could grow in low atmospheric pressure by developing a bioreactor called Atmos, short for "Atmosphere Tester for Mars-bound Organic Systems".
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They found the microbes grew well at Mars-like atmospheres ten times lower than that on Earth in replicas of Red Planet soil called Mars Global Simulant.
The bacterial growths could then be processed and used to grow other cultures such as E. coli bacteria which could in theory then be genetically-engineered to produce sugar and medicines.
Dr Verseux, of the University's Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity, added: "We want to use as nutrients resources available on Mars, and only those.
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"Our bioreactor, Atmos, is not the cultivation system we would use on Mars: it is meant to test, on Earth, the conditions we would provide there.
"But our results will help guide the design of a Martian cultivation system. For example, the lower pressure means that we can develop a more lightweight structure that is more easily freighted, as it won't have to withstand great differences between inside and outside."
The paper has been published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
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