Scientists grow plants in moon soil for the first time

For the first time, scientists have grown plants in soil from the moon, done by researchers from the University of Florida. This research was conducted by using samples attained from the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions. As you can imagine, they didn’t have much to work with when doing this research.

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The several missions to the moon has brought back 382 kilograms of soil and rocks from our closest celestial neighbour. However, the scientists only had a sample of about 12 grams of soil, known as lunar regolith, gifted to them by NASA to conduct the research. Rob Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul, leading scientist on the project, had to apply to NASA three times over an 11 year period to get the samples.

The team used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates, which are typically used to culture cells, as pots. The scientists placed a gram of soil into each of these, added a nutrient solution and then placed a few thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) seeds. They planted the seeds in other types of soil as part of a control group, including simulated Martian soil, soils from extreme environments and a substance that mimics lunar soil.

In their published work, they found that differences in the makeup of the lunar soil samples appear to have impacted the growth of the plants. Interestingly, the plants that grew worst were in mature lunar soil, which has been exposed to more cosmic wind over the eons.

NASA’s Artemis Project, expected to launch astronauts to the moon in 2025, has a lot of use for this research. It will allow scientists to grow plants on the moon for food and oxygen. “Artemis will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space,” Ferl, one of the paper’s authors and a distinguished professor of horticultural sciences in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said. It will be the first time humans have been to the moon since 1972.