Scientists have grown plants in lunar soil brought back to Earth by Apollo astronauts for the first time, a step toward producing food and oxygen on the Moon or during future space missions.
According to researchers at the (UF) in the United States, plants can successfully sprout and grow in lunar soil.
Their research, which was published in Communications Biology, also looked into how plants respond biologically to the soil on the Moon, known as lunar regolith, which is very different from the ground on Earth.
This study comes when NASA’s Artemis Program is planning to return humans to the Moon.”
“Artemis will necessitate a better understanding of growing plants in space,” said Rob Full, a (UF/IFAS) professor and one of the study’s authors. “We may use the Moon as a hub or launchpad for future, longer space missions.” “It makes sense to grow plants in the already existing soil,” Full explained.
The experiment was simple: plant seeds in lunar soil, add water, nutrients, and light, and record the results.
They only had 12 grams (a few teaspoons) of lunar soil to work with for this experiment.
This soil was collected during the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 moon missions and is on loan from NASA.
Over 11 years, the researchers applied three times for the opportunity to work with the lunar regolith. The researchers grew their tiny lunar garden in thimble-sized wells in plastic plates generally used to culture cells. Each well served as a pot. After filling each “pot” with about a gram of lunar soil, the scientists moistened the ground with a nutrient solution. They added a few seeds from the Arabidopsis plant, which is widely used in research due to its fully mapped genetic code.
Growing Arabidopsis in lunar soil gave the researchers a better understanding of how the ground affected the plants, right down to gene expression. The researchers also planted Arabidopsis in JSC-1A, a terrestrial substance that mimics actual lunar soil, and simulated Martian soils and terrestrial soils from extreme environments as a point of comparison.
The plants grown in these non-lunar soils served as the control group for the experiment.
The researchers discovered that nearly all seeds planted in the lunar soils sprouted.
“We were astounded. That was not something we expected. This indicated that the lunar soils did not disrupt the hormones and signals involved in plant germination,” said Anna-Lisa Paul, one of the study’s authors and a research professor of horticultural sciences at the University of California, Davis.
The researchers discovered differences between plants grown in lunar soil and regular soil. Some of the plants grown in lunar soils, for example, were smaller, grew more slowly, or had a more comprehensive range of sizes than their counterparts. Paul explained that these were all physical signs that the plants were adapting to the chemical and structural make-up of the Moon’s soil. This was confirmed when the researchers examined the gene expression patterns of the plants.
“At the genetic level, the plants were pulling out the tools typically used to cope with stressors, such as salt and metals or oxidative stress,” Paul explained.
“Ultimately, we’d like to use the gene expression data to help address how we can improve stress responses to the point where plants — particularly crops — can grow in lunar soil with minimal impact on their health,” she said.
The plants with the most signs of stress, according to the researchers, were grown in what lunar geologists call mature lunar soil.
These mature soils have been exposed to more cosmic wind, which has altered their composition. Plants grown in less mature soils, on the other hand, fared better, they added.
The authored article is written by Sejal Wakkar and shared with Prittle Prattle News exclusively.