Future agriculture: Scientists have finally been able to grow plants on lunar soil. How looks like the results?
Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 12 May 2022, at 13:05 pm Los Angeles time
Scientists have finally been able to grow plants into lunar soil, an important step for the future and a change in the likely "future agriculture".
Do you think so? Will there be "Lunar Farmers" (send your opinion if you wish to firstname.lastname@example.org)?
It has been 50 years since NASA's Apollo missions brought the first lunar soil samples, and now, the space agency has conducted experiments to research, analyze and experiment with this soil in various fields.
It's the turn of the plants. NASA used 3 of the evidence from the Apollo missions to grow a species of plant called Arabidopsis thaliana that is hardy and well-studied in the nutrient-poor lunar regiment.
After months of growth, NASA has given a firm answer: "Plants can grow in Lunar regolith." (regolith is another way of saying lunar soil).
The plant has survived and yielded good results, with NASA noting that it is growing even though the Moon's soil that is quite poor in nutrients.
The resistance of the plant, however, exceeded expectations.
"Here we are, 50 years later, completing experiments that were started back in the Apollo labs," said Robert Ferl, a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and a communicating author of a paper published on May 12, 2022, in Communications Biology. "We first asked the question of whether plants can grow in regolith. And second, how might that one day help humans have an extended stay on the Moon."
Do not think that these plants have grown as much as those grown on Earth.
The idea is that they have grown and it is a step towards the future development of the human species on the Moon.
"To explore further and to learn about the solar system we live in, we need to take advantage of what's on the Moon, so we don't have to take all of it with us," said Jacob Bleacher, the Chief Exploration Scientist supporting NASA's Artemis program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Bleacher points out that this is also why NASA is sending robotic missions to the Moon's South Pole where it's believed there may be water that can be used by future astronauts. "What's more, growing plants is the kind of thing we'll study when we go. So, these studies on the ground lay the path to expand that research by the next humans on the Moon."
Arabidopsis thaliana is a relative of mustard greens and other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts and is found on the African and Eurasian continents.
It has been studied a lot over time due to the ease with which it grows and its small size. It is well known in the field of biology, and scientists already know its genes as well as many characteristics of its behavior.
Now, researchers know one thing: it can even grow in space.
Samples from Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions were used and only one gram of Lunar soil was allocated to each plant.
Then the seeds were introduced, a little water was added and then placed in a special terrarium. After that, the scientists added a nutrient solution to each plant.
"After two days, they started to sprout!" said Anna-Lisa Paul, who is also a professor in Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, and who is first author on the paper. "Everything sprouted. I can't tell you how astonished we were! Every plant - whether in a lunar sample or in a control - looked the same up until about day six."
On the sixth day, they developed even more, already showing specific signs, but some of the most special ones were that the plants grew differently depending on the soil from each mission.
The scientists did not wait long, and after only 20 days, they made the "first harvest", gathering a few plants, grinding them, and then began the fascinating part: their study.
Its genes or DNA were largely decoded by researchers and then transcribed into RNA.
The RNA is then translated into a protein sequence, according to NASA.
Scientists have found data on how the plant developed in this environment.
RNA and its genes suggested that the plant was under stress because it had to adapt to harsh soil, but this was not surprising, because, in the past, scientists have noticed that it has adapted to other harsh environments with a lot of salt or heavy metals.
"Additionally, the plants reacted differently depending on which sample - each collected from different areas on the Moon - was used. Plants grown in the Apollo 11 samples were not as robust as the other two sets. Nonetheless, the plants did grow," concluded NASA in the end.
Preliminary results look surprising, especially for NASA, which is looking forward to launching Artemis missions to Earth's natural satellite, the Moon.