Scientists grow plants in soil from moon

Plants were grown in the moon’s soil for the first time.

This 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 have shown that the plant arabidopsis – the Arabis – can successfully germinate and grow in soil that was collected during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions.

Their study also investigated how plants biologically respond to the moon’s soil, also known as lunar regolith, which is radically different from soil found on Earth.

The research comes as the Artemis program plans to return humans to the moon.

Rob Ferl, one of the study’s authors and professor of horticultural sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), said: “Showing that plants will grow in lunar soil is actually a big step in this direction. capable of establishing ourselves in lunar colonies.”

He added that it was also important to show that the lunar soils were not harmful to terrestrial life and also that terrestrial life could establish itself.

But what do the results mean in relation to growing food fit for human consumption on the moon?

Anna-Lisa Paul, one of the study’s authors and a horticultural science teacher-researcher at UF/IFAS, explains, “So the plants that responded most strongly to what we would call stress responses oxidative, they are the ones especially in the Apollo 11 samples, they are the ones that turned purple.

“And it’s the same thing in blueberries and cranberries, and all those dark red and purple fruits that are healthy for humans because of their antioxidant properties.

“We certainly don’t know the nutritional value of these plants, but it’s likely they pose no threat to humans – it’s hard to say, but it’s more likely that the chemicals the plants produce in response to stresses are those that also help humans.

“So it’s likely to be a more benign or helpful response than the other way around.”

Paul added that although arabidopsis is edible, it is not tasty.

It’s in the same family as mustard, cauliflower, and broccoli, so many of the things learned could translate to the same kind of metabolic strategies and processes “that our good friend broccoli uses,” he said. said Paul.

The researchers set about planting seeds in the lunar soil, adding water, nutrients and light, and analyzing the growth and results.

But due to the rare nature of the samples, the scientists only had 12 grams – just under three teaspoons – of the moon’s soil to work with.

On loan from NASA, they had applied three times in 11 years for the chance to work with the ground.

And 18 months ago, we gave them the samples.

Prior to this, the samples had been kept in pristine condition so that further analysis could be performed, and releasing them for plant growth experiments would have made them unsuitable for further research.

The next Artemis mission will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space, and so the experience has become more immediately relevant.

The researchers used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates normally used to grow cells, and once each was filled with about a gram of lunar soil, it was moistened with a nutrient solution and added some seeds from the arabidopsis plant.

These are all physical signs that the plants were working to cope with the chemical and structural makeup of the moon’s soil which contains many tiny fragments of gas-bearing glass and even metallic irons.

Stephen Elardo, assistant professor of geology at UF, also collaborated on the study published in the journal Communications Biology.

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