(CNN)If we make it to Mars, we're not going to be able to bring everything humankind needs to stay for an extended period of time -- or to construct colonies on the red planet.
In order to build shelters and manufacture tools, astronauts may only need to bring one key ingredient -- with minerals in the lifeless Martian soil able to do the rest, a new study published Wednesday said.
The key ingredient is chitin -- a fibrous substance that is a component of cell walls in fungi, the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects, and the scales of fish and amphibians.
Chitin could be combined with surface soil by early Martian settlers to manufacture a new material without special equipment and using little energy, researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design said.
The chitin for use on Mars, the study said, could come from insects. Given their high protein content, insects could form part of the diet for a crewed mission. The authors said that the extraction of chitin would be a byproduct of the crew's food supply and consumption.