More than 50 years after Apollo 11 landed on the rocky surface of the moon and picked up vials of lunar soil, scientists announced that they had supported the mission in a new way. Geologists and gardeners from the University of Florida (UF) have successfully grown plants in regolith, or lunar soilcollected during the initial landing of Apollo. The team published its findings today in a journal Biology of communication; results may be affected NASA returns to the moon in 2024.
Getting regolith in itself has been a challenge since Anna Lisa and Paul Rob Ferrell of UF Space Plant Laboratory three times in 11 years appealed to NASA to work with soil. Regolith is in limited quantities on Earth and is carefully preserved NASA’s Johnson Space Centerwhere it is contained in nitrogen to prevent oxidation and contamination. Scientists around the world can borrow samples, but NASA space biologist Sharmila Bhattacharya says the substance is considered a very valuable material.
Regolith is markedly different from the Earth’s soil, in part because it is bombarded by radioactive solar winds. Growing plants in it requires fertilizing with a mixture called “Murashige-Skoog medium” on top of regular watering. These supplements should make up for the lack of essential nutrients in regolith.
“On Earth,“ soil ”means a lot of extra things. It also contains organic materials, microbial samples, the remains of other plants and so on, ”says Bhattacharya. “While regolith, strictly speaking, is material on the surface of the moon or on the surface of Mars.”
NASA, which helped fund the study, gave the team 12 grams of regolith in 2021. These soil teaspoons were divided into thimble-sized plastic holes commonly used to study cells. After planting the seeds, the scientists moved the plates with holes to the terrariums in a strictly controlled room for cultivation. Initially, UF researchers were unsure whether any seeds would germinate, as the experiment was the first of its kind. But in just 60 hours after planting each seed in the regalita sprouted and had tiny sprouts.
Part of the team’s success could have come from the seed they chose. “In Arabidopsis The plant used for this is actually a very commonly used model organism for research on the Earth’s surface as well as in space, ”says Bhattacharya. “In the past, for example, even from NASA we flew Arabidopsis on the International Space Station. ” Those the experiments considered everything from the extraorbital life cycle of greenery to the influence of gravity on parts of plants.
Arabidopsis plants are easy and inexpensive to grow, but they are also suitable for research due to their genome. The whole genetic sequence of the species is much smaller compared to other plants and well reflectedmaking it popular for comparative studies. When the plants in the lunar regolith seemed to fight more than the control plants (which were planted in a regalith simulator called JSC-1A), the researchers looked closely at the RNA from both parties.
“When this team looked at the changes in RNA, it is [was] It is clear that while the plant manages to grow in this material, there were elements of stress, ”says Bhattacharya. “Cells included these reactions as if they were under oxidative stress.”
Indicators of cellular stress were just one sign of growth problems. Plants grown in regalith also showed growth retardation, shorter roots and pigmentation on the plant. Stress when grown in lunar soil is manifested externally as well as internally in plant RNA.
Bhattacharya says that in recent decades, new tools have been developed in molecular biology to change cellular components in plants. If researchers can see exactly which genetic pathways look stressful, they can use genetic engineering to help plants thrive under stressful conditions. Creating or finding plants that are better suited for regolith growth may be the key to lunar agriculture, which, according to Bhattacharya, is a step towards longer space flights and possibly even beyond Earth.
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But the moon is not quite ready for terraforming. Because it lacks an atmosphere, any plants grown in a vacuum of space will need to be grown in an enclosed space next to people with access to oxygen and water. With further study of proper planting procedures and the wonders of the lunar soil the Moon may well contain food and oxygen by then people are coming to the moon again.