Making a new stride towards space exploration, scientists revealed last week that they were successful in growing plants in soil collected from the moon. The details of this breakthrough study were revealed in a research paper published recently in the journal Communications Biology. The NASA-funded study was run by scientists at the University of Florida who were successful in growing the hardy and well-studied Arabidopsis thaliana in the nutrient-poor lunar regolith.
For the first time ever, scientists have grown plants in lunar soil.
This @UF and @NASASpaceSci experiment using Apollo Moon samples could shape the future of sustainable astronaut missions to deep space. Dig into the story: https://t.co/ZtUvowKi8e pic.twitter.com/PWGzev7lmN
— NASA (@NASA) May 12, 2022
The soil was brought to Earth during the Apollo missions 11, 12 and 17, by the American space agency. According to NASA, the lunar surface material, known as regolith, was brought to Earth where it could be studied with state-of-the-art equipment and saved for future research. For this experiment, researchers planted the seeds of the plant related to mustard greens, as well as other cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower, in lunar soil. In a press release, NASA explained that the plant also plays a key role for scientists due to its small size and ease of growth, it is one of the most studied plants in the world. Arabidopsis thaliana is used as a model organism for research into all areas of plant biology.
Anna-Lisa Paul, a research professor in the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida and the study’s first author, described the lunar soil as “fine” and “powdery” that “sticks to everything.”
BIG NEWS: Researchers grew plants in lunar soil for the first time! 🌱🌖
Congrats to @UF on growing Arabidopsis plants in regolith collected during the Apollo era. We’ll study the same species on #Artemis I as we prep to return to the Moon. https://t.co/fsollo0lvX pic.twitter.com/ZsjKKZXu9v
— NASA Space Science (@NASASpaceSci) May 12, 2022
Researchers added water and then seeds to the samples of lunar soil and then put the trays into terrarium boxes in a clean room. A nutrient solution was also added daily to the mix. The study found that the seeds started to sprout within days of planting. However, the scientists observed that all of the seeds that grew in lunar soil did not grow as “robust” as those in the control. The study mentions that some of the plants grown in the lunar soil samples had “stunted” roots and leaves, as well as some “reddish pigmentation.”
However, it is a significant advancement in space biology as Sharmila Bhattacharya, program scientist with NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences (BPS) Division said in a statement, “Not only is it pleasing for us to have plants around us, especially as we venture to new destinations in space, but they could provide supplemental nutrition to our diets and enable future human exploration.”