For the first time, scientists have grown plants in the lunar earth

For the first time, scientists have grown plants in the lunar earth

  • Researchers have grown plants in the moon’s soil for the first time.
  • Although the seedlings suffered stress and stunted growth, they still grew.
  • Growing crops on the moon could help future space travelers survive longer missions, researchers have said.

For the first time, scientists have grown plants in the soil of the moon. Their ideas could one day help future space farmers cultivate terrestrial plants on other worlds.

In a new study, published Thursday in the journal Communications Biology, University of Florida researchers planted seeds in soil samples from the moon, more properly called lunar regolith, which was brought to Earth a while ago. half-century by the Apollo astronauts.

The experiment involved using 12 grams – just a few teaspoons – of lunar soil collected during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions, along with a control group of volcanic soil from Earth, which has a composition similar to dirt. lunar. The researchers planted seeds of fast-growing watercress, a weed plant often used in science because of its fully mapped genetic code. The seeds germinated in three days.

“We marveled when we handled these samples, collected by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmidt and the other moonwalkers of the 1960s and 1970s,” the research team wrote. in a notice. play for The Hill. “Seeing the seeds sprout was impressive, knowing that our research could one day help astronauts grow plants as a source of food and oxygen during deep space missions and long stays on the moon.”

According to Rob Ferl, one of the study’s authors and professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, it will be necessary to reliably grow crops in space for future space travelers to survive longer missions. long.

“For future, longer space missions, we could use the moon as a hub or launch pad. It makes sense that we want to use the soil that’s already there to grow plants,” Ferl said in a statement. “So what happens when you grow plants in lunar soil, something that’s totally outside of a plant’s evolutionary experience? What would plants do in a lunar greenhouse? Could we have lunar farmers?”

Not surprisingly, the researchers found that plants grew better in Earth’s volcanic ash than in lunar soil. But they could grow.

“We found that plants do indeed grow in lunar regolith. However, they react as if they were growing in a stressful situation,” said Anna-Lisa Paul, research professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida and co- author of the study. , told reporters at a press conference ahead of the announcement.

Plants grown in lunar soil were smaller and slower growing than their counterparts grown in Earth’s soil. Many of their leaves showed black and red discoloration, a sign of stress and general poor health. Genetic analysis of the plants revealed that those grown in lunar soil expressed genes linked to salt and oxidative stress.

This photo from 2021 shows the differences between Thale watercress plants grown in Earth's volcanic ash, which had a similar particle size and mineral composition to lunar soil, left, compared to those grown in lunar soil , right, after 16 days.

Differences between Thale watercress plants grown in Earth’s volcanic ash, which had a particle size and mineral composition similar to those in lunar soil, left, versus those grown in lunar soil, right , after 16 days.

Tyler Jones/UF/IFAS


Lunar soil is very different from the soil in which plants typically grow on Earth: “The moon is very, very poor in water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. So, naturally, lunar soils don’t have a lot of nutrients needed to support plant growth,” said Stephen Elardo, assistant professor of geology at the University of Florida and co-author of the study, during the press conference. “It’s not something you would want to breathe. It would damage your lungs. You wouldn’t want to put it in your garden to grow your tomatoes,” he added.

Although the seedlings grown in lunar soil were stressed and stunted compared to plants grown in Earth soil, they still grew and grew. This important step could provide researchers with lessons on how agriculture could support human outposts in other worlds.

Yet we are a far cry from the space farmers who cultivate lunar soil and live off the land. The moon’s atmosphere lacks the constant access to oxygen and water necessary for plant growth. Further research into lunar gardening could help future space travelers cultivate food sources during long-term missions.

“We need to figure out how to make plants grow even better in this regolith substrate,” Sharmila Bhattacharya, chief scientist for astrobionics at NASA, who was not part of the study, told CNN. “For example, do we need to add other compounds to help the plants move forward, and if so, what are they? Are there other plants that may adapt better to these regolith substrates, and if so, what traits make them more hardy to these substrates. environments?”

Bhattacharya added, “That’s what’s so exciting about science; every new discovery leads to more unique and transformative results down the road, which we can then use to help improve the sustainability of our future exploration missions. spatial!”

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