The achievement heralds the promise of using earthly plants to support human outposts on other worlds.
Scientists for the first time have grown seeds in soil from the moon, samples retrieved during NASA missions in 1969 and 1972.
The ground-breaking experiment, detailed in the journal Communications Biology on Thursday, has given researchers hope that it may be possible to one day grow plants directly on the Moon.
However, according to the study’s University of Florida authors, much remains to be studied on the topic, and they intend to leave no stone unturned.
“This research is critical to NASA’s long-term human exploration goals,” said Bill Nelson, the head of the US space agency.
“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.”
For the first time ever, scientists have grown plants in lunar soil.
This @UF and @NASASpaceSci experiment using Apollo Moon samples could shape the future of sustainable astronaut missions to deep space. Dig into the story: https://t.co/ZtUvowKi8e pic.twitter.com/PWGzev7lmN
— NASA (@NASA) May 12, 2022
A lasting human presence on the Moon’s surface
For their experiment, the researchers used just 12 grams (a few teaspoons) of lunar soil collected from various spots on the Moon during the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions.
In tiny thimble-sized pots, they placed about a gram of soil (called “regolith”) and added water, then the seeds. They also fed the plants a nutrient solution every day.
The researchers chose to plant arabidopsis thaliana, a relative of mustard greens, because it grows easily – and its genetic code and responses to hostile environments, even in space, are well known.
As a control group, seeds were also planted in soil from Earth as well as samples imitating lunar and Martian soil. The result: after two days, everything sprouted, including the lunar samples.
“Every plant, whether in a lunar sample or in a control, looked the same up until about day six,” Anna-Lisa Paul, lead author of the paper, said in a statement.
But after that, differences started to appear: the plants in the lunar samples grew more slowly and had stunted roots. After 20 days, the scientists harvested all the plants, and ran studies on their DNA.
Their analysis showed that the lunar plants had reacted similarly to those grown in hostile environments, such as soil with too much salt, or heavy metals.
In the future, scientists want to understand how this environment could be made more hospitable.
NASA is preparing to return to the Moon as part of the Artemis program, with a long-term goal of establishing a lasting human presence on its surface.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies