Scientists grow plants in soil from the moon
Plants have been grown in soil from the moon for the first time.
The milestone in lunar and space exploration is a first step towards one day growing plants for food and oxygen on the moon or during space missions.
In the new study, researchers from the University of Florida showed that the arabidopsis plant — thale cress — could successfully germinate and grow in soil collected during the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions.
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Their study also examined how plants respond biologically to the moon’s soil, also known as lunar regolith, which radically differs from Earth’s ground.
The investigation comes as the Artemis program plans to return humans to the moon.
Rob Ferl, one of the authors of the study and professor of horticultural sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), said: “Demonstrating that plants will grow on lunar soil is a huge step in that direction. to settle in lunar colonies.”
He added that it was also important to show that lunar soils are not harmful to terrestrial life and that terrestrial life could settle.
But what do the findings mean regarding growing food suitable for human consumption on the moon?
Anna-Lisa Paul, one of the authors of the study and a research professor of horticultural sciences at UF/IFAS, explains: “So the plants that reacted most strongly to what we would call oxidative stress responses are the ones, especially in the Apollo 11 monsters, they are the ones that turned purple.
“And that’s the same as in blueberries and cranberries, and all those dark red and purple fruits that are healthy for people because of their antioxidant properties.
“We don’t know the nutritional value of these plants, but it likely poses no threat to humans — it’s hard to say, but it’s more likely that the chemicals plants produce in response to stress are the ones that also humans help pressure.
“So it’s probably a more benign or helpful response than the other way around.”
Paul added that while arabidopsis is edible, it is not tasty.
It belongs to the same family as mustard, cauliflower, and broccoli, so many things learned can translate into the same kinds of metabolic strategies and processes “that our good friend broccoli uses,” Paul said.
The researchers began planting seeds in lunar soil, adding water, nutrients, and light, and analyzing growth and results.
But because of the rare nature of the samples, the scientists only had 12 ounces — just under three teaspoons — of Earth from the moon to work with.
On loan from NASA, they had applied greatly over 11 years for a chance to work on the ground.
And 18 months ago, they got the samples.
Before then, the samples had been kept in pristine condition so that other analyses could be performed. They would have become unsuitable for further research if released for plant growth experiments.
The upcoming Artemis mission requires a better understanding of how to grow plants in space, so the experiment became more directly relevant.
The researchers used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates normally used to grow cells, and once each well was filled with about one gram of lunar soil, it was moistened with a nutrient solution, and a few seeds of the arabidopsis plant were added.
These were all physical signs that the plants were working to cope with the chemical and structural makeup of the lunar bottom, which contains many small glass fragments containing gases and even metallic irons.
Stephen Elardo, an assistant professor of geology at UF, also contributed to the study, published in the journal Communications Biology.