When NASA sendsback on the moon’s surface in the coming years, they should be able to grow their own salad. It’s just an offshoot of a historic experiment in which scientists used samples of lunar surface material, called regolith, to successfully grow plants here on Earth.
Seeds of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, a relative of mustard greens, were deposited in tiny regolith samples collected on three different Apollo missions half a century ago.
While the seeds germinated and grew, they didn’t exactly thrive.
“Lunar soils don’t contain many of the nutrients needed to support plant growth,” Stephen Elardo of the University of Florida said at a press conference Wednesday.
Elardo is co-author of a paper presenting the research published in the journal Communications Biology on Thursday, along with Anna-Lisa Paul and Robert Ferl.
Although the plants grew in a way that indicated they were under stress, they still found a way quite quickly, with a little help from the team who provided them with light, water and nutrients.
“After two days, they started to germinate! Paul, who is also a professor of horticultural science at the University of Florida, said in a statement. “Everything sprouted. I can’t tell you how amazed we were! Every plant – whether in a lunar sample or in a control – looked the same until about the sixth day.”
By the end of their first week, the regolith plants showed slower growth, stunted roots and leaves, and a few red spots. Subsequent genetic analysis would confirm that the greens were stressed.
Lunar regolith is very fine and powdery, but make no mistake about it, as these grains are also sharp. Breathing in moon dust can damage the lungs, and the substance isn’t particularly hospitable to plant life either.
“Ultimately, we’d like to use gene expression data to help determine how we can improve stress responses to the level where plants – especially crops – are able to grow in lunar soil with very little stress. ‘impact on their health,’ Paul added.
Ferl says growing plants on the moon is key to a long-term stay on the moon by helping to provide not only food, but also clean air and water for astronauts and others. visitors.
“When we go somewhere in space, we always take our agriculture with us,” said Ferl, also from the University of Florida. “Showing that plants will grow on lunar soil is actually a big step in that direction.”