Scientists successfully grow plants in lunar soil – The Hill

The story at a glance

  • Scientists from the University of Florida have managed to grow small plants in lunar soil.

  • The researchers were only able to use a tiny amount of lunar soil, which was brought back to Earth by the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions.

  • Scientists still need to do more work in the area, but the success of the experiment means humanity is on the verge of growing plants on the Moon.

For the first time, scientists have succeeded in growing plants in the soil of the Moon.

Researchers at the University of Florida planted seeds of the Arabidopsis plant – commonly known as watercress – in a few teaspoons of lunar soil collected in the late 1960s and early 1970s during the Apollo 11 missions, 12 and 17.

After about a week of watering and feeding, the seeds sprouted in and out of the soil, or lunar regolith, according to a paper detailing the experiment published Thursday in the scientific journal “Communications Biology.”

The researchers were delighted with the plant’s successful growth, which marks a milestone in lunar and space exploration. This achievement brings scientists closer to the possibility of growing plants for food or oxygen on the Moon.


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The experiment lasted for years and was only made possible by NASA’s Artemis program preparing to return humans to the Moon by 2025. The experiment’s two lead researchers, Anna- Lisa Paul and Robert Ferl applied to use lunar soil four times in 11 years before being allowed to use samples on loan from NASA.

Seeds from the Arabidopsis plant were used for the experiment because scientists have fully mapped its genetic code, making it easier to fully study the effect of lunar regolith on the plant.

In addition to using lunar soil, the researchers planted Arabidopsis seeds in JSC-1A, volcanic ash that mimics lunar soil, simulated Martian soil, and Earth soil from extreme environments as a control.

To Paul and Ferl’s surprise, all the seeds planted in the lunar soil germinated, but as the plants got bigger, the researchers noticed differences between those planted in the regolith and those planted in the earth ground.

Some of the lunar soil plants grew smaller, slower and varied in size more drastically than those in the control group and there was also a difference in plant growth depending on the Apollo site in which the seeds were planted. planted.

Soils collected during the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions have varying degrees of “maturity,” Paul explained, or how long they’ve been exposed to the lunar surface and cosmic winds, which can alter physical and chemical characteristics. of the ground. .

“It becomes sharper, the particles become smaller and [they] act as obstacles and challenges to root growth and hinder their ability to absorb nutrients,” Paul told Changing America.

While NASA senior scientist Sharmila Bhattacharya called the results of the experiment “exciting”, she pointed out that there was still a lot of work to be done since the seeds planted in the regolith were not growing as well as they did. those of the simulant or terrestrial soil. Some next steps for researchers, Bhattacharya said, could be to optimize growth and test other types of plants to see how well they grow in lunar soil.

But the growth of Arabidopsis seeds in lunar soil is a first of its kind and serves as a reminder of what prompted many researchers who grew up in the Apollo era to become interested in science in the first place.

“You have to remember that as children we watched the collection of these samples… we watched them on television as little children and so to be part of that legacy, even a small part, is extraordinary” , said Paul. Ferl too remembers seeing the Apollo missions inspired her as a child to pursue a career in science.

“First of all, the ability to work with lunar samples is really quite large and it pulls on what got us into science in the first place,” Ferl said. “And the idea that we can, through our work, contribute to the exploration program by understanding how we might live and work on the Moon seems like a big contribution. It feels like we’re making a difference.”


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Published in May. 12, 2022

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