June 3, 2023
Researchers managed to grow plants on lunar soil

Researchers managed to grow plants on lunar soil

For the first time, scientists were able to grow plants on lunar soil samples brought back by Apollo 17 50 years ago. The work, led by the University of California, is an important step toward humanity’s ability to produce its own food in space, whether on the Moon or Mars.

The new study focused on evaluating whether future astronauts living on the Moon would be able to grow vegetables in greenhouses using the resources available on the Moon’s surface: the regolith. Samples of this material were brought to Earth between the 1960s and 1970s NASA’s Apollo Missions.

Lunar regolith brought by the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 (Image: Reproduction/ESA/Francesca MacDonald)

However, the the burial It is a very unfriendly substance. It is made up of small, dry and very fine grains of sand, with minerals and ions not found on Earth. Nor does it contain organic matter, as nothing, as far as we know, has decomposed on our natural satellite.

To grow plants in this material, the researchers needed to add some nutrients and water. It worked – at least in part. “After two days, we were surprised to see all the seeds had germinated,” said astrobiologist Anna Lisa Ball, lead author of the study.

The researchers were given a limited amount of regolith. Each sample contained about a gram of soil brought in by the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions. To control the study, they planted the seeds in simulated lunar soil made from volcanic ash – A substance known to scientists as JSC-1A.

Cultivation in the soil of the moon

Working with JSC-1A helped the team develop a diluted nutrient solution for growing seeds. They used trays with 48 holes, and in three of them they placed seeds with lunar regolith as well as a nutrient solution.

Seed germination and development during the experiment (Photo: Reproduction / Anna Lisa Paul et al.)

In another four, they put the seeds with imitation regolith in addition to the solution. The same setting was used in three other trays to improve experiment statistics. These dishes were then transferred to terrariums with ventilation and light.

Boxes were used to simulate the flow of air inside a lab on the moon. The seeds in question are from Thale Agaron (Arabidopsis thaliana) – known for its rapid growth. When germinated, they were still consuming the nutrients stored in the seeds, without the need for soil.

A week later, when the nutrient stocks were exhausted, differences began to emerge. Compared to seedlings grown in simulated regolith, those grown in lunar material take longer to form broad leaves, as well as being smaller and some of them severely stunted.

Then the researchers did their work genetic testing On each plant to assess the metabolic tools they were using to adapt to the new soil. They found that the seedlings were stressed: “They were working hard to stay healthy,” Paul added.

space farming

For the authors of the work, it is only a matter of time before we can grow plants on lunar soil. “We here on Earth are very familiar with how to grow plants in increasingly salty and dry environments,” said study co-author Robert Ferrell.

The ability to grow food plants on the Moon or Mars will be essential to establishing a continuous human presence on extraterrestrial worlds.

NASA has already implemented some Lunar regolith research, but nothing quite like the work of Paul and Ferrell. By growing food plants in space, the burden of future manned missions to the Moon or beyond will be less, as there will be no need to carry as much food. In addition, the presence of vegetation has positive effects on mental health staff.

A few years ago, growing plants aboard the International Space Station (ISS) became a reality. Crew members primarily assess the ability to Some plants grow on Mars Or on spaceships during long space flights to the planet.

The authors of the work have no doubt: space farming will be in the future; The research has just introduced a portion of the Moon into biology. “For me, this is very symbolic. When we leave the earth, we will take the plants with us,” Paul concluded.

Publish the research in the journal Communication biology.

source: Communication biologyvia wired