For a long time, geologists at the University of Florida have wanted to investigate the efficacy of lunar soil for plant growth, but the soil is in scarce supply. But their dream finally seems to have been fulfilled as University of Florida researchers have bwen able to successfully grow plants in moon soil.
NASA intends to return to the moon later this decade with the objective of establishing a permanent facility there. However, because delivering supplies to the moon will be outrageously costly, researchers are looking for other ways to sustain Earth’s inaugural space inhabitants.
Plants have been grown on dirt collected from the lunar surface by geologists at the University of Florida.
The selected plant is something that you have most likely seen and might not have heard of: The weed Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) can be seen growing beside roadways, in crevices in brickwork, and even in parking garages. It was selected for its durability as well as the fact that its genome has been sequenced and is very well researched.
Although it is not expected to be on anyone’s dinner menu, it is connected to plants that are common on Earth’s dinner tables. Cabbage, broccoli, and rapeseed are all genetic cousins of Thale Cress.
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For a long time, geologists at the University of Florida have wanted to investigate the efficacy of lunar soil for plant growth, but the soil is in scarce supply. The Apollo flights brought back only 842 lbs (382 kg) of dirt and rocks, which may not seem like much, but that is all we have till we return for more.
Because of this, NASA turned down the research team’s requests for lunar regolith twice, but the third time was the charm. NASA provided the researchers with 12 grams of soil from three Apollo missions: 11, 12, and 17.
This is presumably due to NASA’s Project Artemis, which plans to send astronauts to the moon later this decade with the objective of establishing a permanent base on the lunar surface.
The study’s findings, which were published in Communications Biology on Wednesday, were encouraging. Each crop received one gram of dirt from their particular site, with a control group consisting of volcanic ash from the earth.
Every plant sprouted and grew within 48 to 60 hours, albeit with variable degrees of success. The control group, unsurprisingly, did the best. The specimen from the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 landed, was the poorest. Ocean of the Storms, from Apollo 12, came in second, and Apollo 17’s Taurus-Littrow lunar sample came in first.
This is most likely due to the geological age of each location. The Sea of Tranquility is the oldest, having spent the most time subjected to the Sun’s rays. Taurus-Littrow is the newest, having just recently been uncovered to the surface due to a series of meteor impacts.
All three lunar specimens had trouble growing plants. Out of the 30,000 genomes in Thale Cress, around 1000 genes can be triggered to assist the plant flourish in challenging situations. Hundreds of them were activated by each sample. 465 stress genomes were activated in the Apollo 11 sample, 235 in the Apollo 12 sample, and 113 in the Apollo 17 sample. The plants also showed signs of illness, such as red and black spots on the leaves.
They did, however, able to grow, which is quite positive. Stephen Elardo, a geologist and study co-author, discussed what future moon colonists should do to assist the plants survive in a permanent settlement. “What we could simply do in the absence of other constraining factors, is land and establish a habitat on a lunar surface that is significantly younger than the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 sites.”
It’s not the first occasion Thale Cress has been researched in connection to space. NASA deployed it aboard the International Space Station to examine plant development in zero gravity. Those plants did not have radiated regolith and instead had specialized growth units, although they seemed to adjust quite well.