A recent paper from the scientific journal Frontiers in Microbiology has proposed a potential new method for growing oxygen-producing algae on Mars to help with terraforming:
We developed a low-pressure photobioreactor, dubbed Atmos, that can provide tightly regulated atmospheric conditions to nine cultivation chambers. We used it to study the effects of a 96% N2, 4% CO2 gas mixture at a total pressure of 100 hPa on Anabaena sp. PCC 7938 [the algae]. We showed that those atmospheric conditions (referred to as MDA-1) can support the vigorous autotrophic, diazotrophic growth of cyanobacteria. We found that MDA-1 did not prevent Anabaena sp. from using an analog of Martian regolith (MGS-1) as a nutrient source. Finally, we demonstrated that cyanobacterial biomass grown under MDA-1 could be used for feeding secondary consumers (here, the heterotrophic bacterium E. coli W). Taken as a whole, our results suggest that a mixture of gases extracted from the Martian atmosphere, brought to approximately one tenth of Earth's pressure at sea level, would be suitable for photobioreactor modules of cyanobacterium-based life-support systems.
EurekaAlert has a little more info on the project:
To find suitable atmospheric conditions, Verseux et al. developed a bioreactor called Atmos (for "Atmosphere Tester for Mars-bound Organic Systems"), in which cyanobacteria can be grown in artificial atmospheres at low pressure. Any input must come from the Red Planet itself: apart from nitrogen and carbon dioxide, gases abundant in the Martian atmosphere, and water which could be mined from ice, nutrients should come from "regolith", the dust covering Earth-like planets and moons. Martian regolith has been shown to be rich in nutrients such as phosphorus, sulphur, and calcium.
Atmos has nine 1 L vessels made of glass and steel, each of which is sterile, heated, pressure-controlled, and digitally monitored, while the cultures inside are continuously stirred.
So the algae was presented with the same options to feed on as it would likely find on Mars — lots of nitrogen and CO2, at very low pressures. And it was able to thrive. That's pretty cool!
A Low-Pressure, N2/CO2 Atmosphere Is Suitable for Cyanobacterium-Based Life-Support Systems on Mars [Cyprien Verseux, Christiane Heinicke, Tiago P. Ramalho, Jonathan Determann, Malte Duckhorn, Michael Smagin and Marc Avila / Frontiers in Microbiology]
Biotech fit for the Red Planet [Eureka Alert]