When NASA sendsback to the surface of the moon in the coming years, they should be able to grow their own salad. This is just a branch of a historical experiment in which scientists used samples of lunar surface material, called regolith, to successfully grow plants here on Earth.
Seeds of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, associated with mustard greens, were deposited in tiny specimens of regolith collected in three different Apollo expeditions half a century ago.
As the seeds sprouted and grew, they did not exactly thrive.
“Lunar soils do not have many of the nutrients needed to support plant growth,” Stephen Elardo of the University of Florida told a news conference Wednesday.
Elardo co-authored a paper presenting the research, which was published in the journal Communications Biology on Thursday, along with Anna-Lisa Paul and Robert Ferl.
As the plants grew in a way that seemed to be pressed, they found a way relatively quickly, with a little help from the team that provided them with light, water and nutrients.
“After two days they started to sprout!” Paul, who is also a professor of Fruit and Vegetable Sciences at the University of Florida, said in a statement. “Everything sprouted. I can not tell you how surprised we were! Every plant – whether in a lunar specimen or in a control – looked the same until about the sixth day.”
By the end of their first week, the regolith plants showed slower growth, delayed roots and leaves, and some red spots. Subsequent genetic analysis would confirm that the grass was under pressure.
Lunar regolith is very fine-grained and dusty, but do not be fooled, because these grains also have sharp edges. Inhalation of lunar dust can damage the lungs and the material is not very hospitable to plant life.
“Ultimately, we would like to use gene expression data to help address how we can improve stress responses at a level where plants – especially crops – can grow in lunar soil with very little impact. to their health, “Paul added.
Ferl says growing plants on the moon is the key to a long stay on the moon, helping to provide not only food but also fresh air and water for astronauts and other visitors.
“When we go somewhere in space, we always take our farming with us,” said Ferl, also of the University of Florida. “Showing that plants will grow on lunar soil is actually a huge step in that direction.”