Cities could be built on Mars - from shrimp shells, according to new research.
A simple manufacturing technique using chitin - which gives molluscs and insects their strength - opens the door to developing colonies, say scientists.
The natural material forms the body armour of crustaceans, protects butterfly wings - and is also found in mushrooms.
It's one of the most widespread organic polymers on Earth. The scales of fish and amphibians are made from it.
Dr Javier Fernandez, of Singapore University of Technology and Design, says it holds the key to "our transformation into an interplanetary species."
The biodegradable product is already offering hope as an eco-friendly alternative to plastics on Earth.
NASA is hoping to send the first astronauts to the Red Planet by 2035. Donald Trump is a big backer.
The benefits of human settlements are potentially enormous - going beyond curiosity.
They include close-up observational research, economic interest in its resources - and the survival of the human race. One day, Earth will become uninhabitable.
Future space exploration missions to mars - and the Moon which is also back on the agenda - are likely to involve an extended stay.
Meeting basic needs will be an enormous challenge - and the researchers believe chitin is the answer.
Dr Fernandez said: "For food production and other support systems on Mars, early exploration will rely on other biological life.
"Due to its ubiquity, chitin will likely be part of any artificial ecosystem. It is produced and metabolised across most biological kingdoms."
Insects have been specifically identified as a major player in the ambitious plan as they are high in protein - and would help fulfil the caloric requirements of pioneers.
Dr Fernandez's team used basic chemistry suitable for early Martian settlement to extract a new material with low energy souces and without special equipment.
They did this by combining chitin with a mineral designed to mimic the properties of the regolith - or surface soil.
This showed it enabled the rapid manufacturing of objects ranging from basic tools to rigid shelters - strong enough for humans to live in on Mars.
Dr Fernandez said: "Against the general perception, bio-inspired manufacturing and sustainable materials are not a substituting technology for synthetic polymers.
"They are an enabling technology defining a new paradigm in manufacturing, and allowing to do things that are unachievable by the synthetic counterparts.
"Here we have demonstrated that they are key not only for our sustainability on Earth but also for one of the next biggest achievements of humanity - our transformation into an interplanetary species."
Nasa is hoping to get man back on the moon in the next five years - and on mars about a decade later.
Dr Fernandez added: "The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban environments.
"But due to its efficiency, it is also the most efficient and scalable method to produce materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely scarce environment of a lifeless planet or satellite."