June 28, 2022

One giant leap for plant-kind

Scientists in America have managed to grow plants in soil that originated on the Moon’s surface for the first time ever.

Unveiled in a new paper published in the ‘Communications Biology’ journal, researchers at the University of Florida used small collections of dirt, dust and soil collected during NASA’s 1969 – 1972 Apollo missions to grow and sustain plant life – with their research resulting in the growth of a type of cress in just two days.

The work is already being hailed as a major milestone in our efforts to one day sustain life beyond Earth and potentially help with long-term stays on the Moon.

These groundbreaking results were enough to leave Florida researchers “astonished”, according to reports from the BBC.

Credit: University of Florida

The study also looked at the ways in which plants respond biologically to growth in a substance that wasn’t originated on Earth – in this case lunar soil. It’s a process that’s commonly referred to as ‘lunar regolith’ and is known to be radically different to what we typically see here on Earth, according to the University of Florida website.

“I can’t tell you how astonished we were,” explained University of Florida professor Anna-Lisa Paul, one of the researchers that co-authored the paper that revealed these out-of-this-world results.

“Every plant – whether in a lunar sample or in a control – looked the same up until about day six.”

After six days of incubation, the plants that had sprouted from the lunar soil began to display differences. For example, some started to look stunted, show signs of stress or develop at a slower pace.

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Still, scientists are asserting that this work is undeniably a breakthrough – and one with very real implications for our own future.

“This research is critical to Nasa’s long-term human exploration goals as we’ll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space,” said NASA chief Bill Nelson.

“This fundamental plant growth research is also a key example of how Nasa is working to unlock agricultural innovations that could help us understand how plants might overcome stressful conditions in food-scarce areas here on Earth.”

Rather unsurprisingly, there’s not much lunar soil here on Earth after Nasa astronauts managed to return just 382kg (842lb) of Moon material like rocks, pebbles, sand and core samples during missions across a three-year period beginning in 1969.

Despite this, these Floridian professors were still able to show amazing results regardless of only having 1g of soil per plant to work with.

Hopefully this could all be set to change in 2025, when a new NASA mission plans to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.

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