Scientists are growing plants in the soil of the Moon for the first time

Scientists from the University of Florida achieved a world (and lunar) first in . The researchers used samples obtained by missions , 12 and 17, but they didn’t have much to work with.

While a total of 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of soil and rocks were brought back to Earth from the Moon, the researchers only received 12 grams of so-called “lunar regolith” from NASA. Still, it was more than the requested four grams. Scientists Rob Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul also had to be patient to get their hands on the soil – they applied three times over 11 years for samples.

The team used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates, which are typically used to grow cells, like jars. Scientists placed one gram of soil in each one, added nutrient solution, then placed some watercress (Arabidopsis thaliana) seeds. They planted the seeds in other types of soil as part of a control group, including simulated Martian soil, soils from extreme environments, and a substance that mimics lunar soil.

Almost all of the seeds planted in the lunar regolith germinated, but the plants eventually showed some differences from those grown in the control group. Some of the lunar earth plants grew slower or were smaller. There was also more variation in sizes than with the control group watercress.

Scientists, who in the journal Communications Biology, found that differences in the composition of lunar soil samples appear to have had an impact on plant growth. They determined that the watercress that suffered the most was grown in what is called mature lunar soil, which is exposed to more cosmic wind.

In particular, as notes, the Apollo 11 samples were found to be the least effective for growing plants. These were obtained from the older surface of the Sea of ​​Tranquility, which was exposed to the environment for a few billion years. The researchers wrote that “further characterization and optimization would be required before regolith could be considered a routine in situ resource, particularly in locations where the regolith is very mature.”

Still, the experiment’s success paves the way for the possibility of growing plants on the Moon for food and oxygen, before NASA brings humans back to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.” Artemis will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space,” said Ferl, one of the paper’s authors and a distinguished professor of horticultural sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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