For the first time, scientists have succeeded in growing plants on the soil of the Moon

For the first time, scientists have succeeded in growing plants on the soil of the Moon

Lunar soil used for agriculture was collected during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions to the Moon (Photo: UF/IFAS Tyler Jones)

One of the big unknowns for space scientists was whether anything would sprout from the hard lunar soil, with the aim of seeing if this rocky material could be used to grow food in the future. This question recently received an encouraging first answer: researchers from the University of Florida grew plants on the lunar floor, a first in human history and a milestone in lunar and space exploration.

The team of University of Florida demonstrated that plant species can successfully germinate and grow on lunar material. Their study also investigated how plants biologically respond to soil on the Moon.Also known as lunar regolith, which is radically different from the soil found on Earth. The results were published in the journal Communications Biology.

“Plants grow in the lunar soil. Really?” he said. Robert Ferl of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). Ferl and his colleagues They planted a kind of Arabidopsis thaliana in lunar soil brought to Earth by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and other moon walkers. All the seeds have germinated.

Arabidopsis plants 6 days after planting seeds (Photo: UF/IFAS Tyler Jones)
Arabidopsis plants 6 days after planting seeds (Photo: UF/IFAS Tyler Jones)

This work is a first step towards one day growing plants for food and oxygen on the Moon or during space missions. More immediately, this investigation comes as the Artemis program plans to return humans to the Moon.

“Mugwort will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space,” said Rob Ferl, one of the study’s authors and professor of horticultural science at University of Florida Institute of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

The plants helped establish that soil samples brought back from the moon did not contain pathogens or other unknown compounds that could harm life on Earth.but these plants were just dusted with lunar regolith and never grew there,” he said. Anna-Lisa Paul, also one of the authors of the study and teacher-researcher in horticultural sciences at UF/IFAS.

The Arabidopsis It is widely used in plant science because your genetic code has been fully mapped. Growing Arabidopsis in lunar soil gave researchers a better understanding of how soil affected plants, right down to the level of gene expression.

Soils repelled water (they were hydrophobic), which caused water to accumulate on the surface.  Active agitation of the material with water was necessary to break up the hydrophobicity and evenly wet the soil (Photo: UF/IFAS Tyler Jones)
Soils repelled water (they were hydrophobic), which caused water to accumulate on the surface. Active agitation of the material with water was necessary to break up the hydrophobicity and evenly wet the soil (Photo: UF/IFAS Tyler Jones)

“At the genetic level, the plants brought out the tools that are normally used to deal with stressors, such as salt and metals or oxidative stressso we can infer that plants perceive the lunar soil environment as stressful,” Paul said. “As a last resort, we would like to use gene expression data to help determine how we can improve stress responses to the level where plants, especially crops, can grow on lunar soil with very little impact on their health”.

The more the soil was exposed to the cosmic dimming and solar wind on the Moon, the worse the plants fared. the Apollo 11 samples — exposed for about 2 billion more years to the elements due to the aging of the surface of the Sea of ​​Tranquility — were the least conducive to growthaccording to scientists.

A solution could be take advantage of geologically younger places on the Moon, such as lava flows, to dig up soil for planting. The environment could also be changed, by altering the nutrient mix or adjusting the artificial light.

Some 382 kilograms of lunar rock and soil were brought back by six crews from the Apollo missions.. Some of the first moon dust samples were sprinkled on plants quarantined with the astronauts in Houston after returning from the Moon.

This work is a first step towards growing plants one day for food and oxygen on the Moon or on space missions (UF/IFAS/Handout via REUTERS)
This work is a first step towards growing plants one day for food and oxygen on the Moon or on space missions (UF/IFAS/Handout via REUTERS)

Most samples remained with restricted accesswhich forced researchers to experiment with simulated soil made from volcanic ash on Earth.

NASA finally provided 12 grams of lunar soil to University of Florida scholars early last year. and the expected culture took place last May in a laboratory. This soil was collected during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions to the Moon. Paul and Ferl had applied three times in 11 years for the opportunity to work with lunar regolith.

NASA said the time had finally come for such an experiment, with the agency planning to send astronauts to the moon again in a few years. The ideal situation would be if future astronauts could use lunar soil to plant in greenhouses, instead of having to establish a hydroponic, water-only system, the scientists said.

“The fact that something has germinated means that we already have a good starting point and now the question is how to optimize and improve it,” said Sharmila Bhattacharya, NASA space biology program scientist. ion.

* With AP information

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