This is the first time that plants have sprouted in lunar soil, laying the foundation for growing plants that provide oxygen and food on the moon.
“This is a key finding — that plants are growing in lunar soil,” said Rob Fair, assistant vice chancellor for research at the University of Florida and one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s very shocking because plants have never been to the moon. , the seeds were never adapted to live there.”
An experiment 15 years in the making
Arabidopsis sprouting from lunar soil CNN image
It’s an experiment long in the making, and it’s been 15 years since researchers first made a proposal and request for a lunar sample, which was finally approved 18 months ago.
The research team asked NASA to provide 4 grams of lunar soil collected during the Apollo 17 mission. NASA Apollo Sample Curator Ryan Ziegler saw the scientific value in providing more samples from the different Apollo missions, culminating in lunar soil collected from the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions, 12 grams in total.
The researchers used vessels normally used to grow cells as “flower pots,” filling each cell with 1 gram of lunar soil, adding nutrients and water, and then planting seeds of Arabidopsis thaliana, a species of native thaliana. Small flowering plant native to Eurasia and Africa.
At the same time, Arabidopsis seeds were also planted in synthetic matter and volcanic ash that mimicked lunar soil for comparison with plants grown in lunar soil.
good news and bad news
By day 16, there were clear physical differences between plants grown in volcanic ash (left) and those grown in lunar soil (right).
The good news from this study is that all the seeds germinated and started growing.
But the bad news is that after the first week, the roughness and other properties of the lunar soil stress the plants so much that they grow more slowly than seedlings grown in simulated lunar soil.
Arabidopsis seedlings show signs of struggle as they adapt to lunar soil. Plants seeded in lunar soil grew slower, smaller, and showed more signs of stress, such as pigmentation and expression of stress-related genes, than plants grown in simulated lunar soil.
While the plants grown in the lunar soil were all sprouting and growing, the plants grown in the Apollo 11 samples performed worse than those grown in the Apollo 12 and 17 samples, suggesting that there are also differences between the lunar soils .
Apollo 11 samples had the longest exposure to solar and cosmic radiation. The researchers speculate that the effects of prolonged high-energy bombardment may make lunar regolith particularly biologically sensitive. The lunar surface is constantly bombarded by cosmic radiation and the solar wind, as well as iron particles and tiny shards of glass, all elements that affect plant growth.
follow up research
Researchers plant seeds under LED lights
The researchers hope to conduct follow-up studies to understand how growing plants in a lunar environment changes the lunar soil, and how to activate lunar greenhouses, among other issues.
Further research could also help researchers determine the most efficient ways to grow plants in lunar soil. The researchers also wanted to get a clear picture of the nutritional value of these plants and whether they were affected by soil.
Although Arabidopsis is edible, it is not tasty and is not considered a food crop. But it belongs to the same plant family as broccoli, kale, turnip, and cauliflower.
Bhattacharya, NASA’s chief scientist for aerospace biomimicry, called the discovery of plant growth “pretty exciting” and said the research offers scientists many follow-up opportunities.
“We need to look at how to make plants grow better in regolith substrates,” Bhattacharya wrote in an email. “For example, do we need to add other components to help plants grow, and if so, what are they? Are there other plants that are better adapted to these regolith substrates, and if so, what properties make them better adapted to these environments?”
“That’s what’s exciting about science, each new discovery leads to more unique and transformative results that we can then use to help improve the sustainability of our future space exploration missions!”
Ideally, instead of building a hydroponic system, future astronauts could use the moon’s available soil resources for indoor cultivation, scientists say. Growing plants on the moon is key to a long-term stay on the moon, which not only provides food for astronauts and other visitors, but also helps provide clean air and water.
Upstream News compiled by Yang Ruochen