Scientists study plants using soil samples collected from the Moon to cultivate them

Scientists study plants using soil samples collected from the Moon to cultivate them ...

Can plants grow in lunar soil? A fascinating study has recently published in the journal Communications Biology reveals an experiment in which moon soil samples collected during Apollo missions have been used to grow plants. Surprisingly, an Earth plant,Arabidopsis thaliana, commonly referred to as thale cress, managed to survive in lunar soil samples during the experiment.

Researchers at the University of Florida used 12 samples containing lunar soil collected during Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions between 1969 and 1972. Apart from the lunar samples, they used 16 volcanic ash samples collected on Earth, and then examined the growth of thale cress plants in both types of samples. To avoid any differences, they used the volcanic ash with the same mineral content and particle size as the lunar soil.

They conducted a research on soil samples for over a year, thoroughly monitored the growth and the genetic makeup of the plants grown in the samples, and produced some fantastic findings.

Why the thale cress plant?

Dr. Robert Ferl, a distinguished professor at the Univerity of Florida, explained that the particular plant was chosen for several very significant reasons. The first is that this Arabidopsis thaliana plant is exceptionally well studied here on the Earth, there are probably tens of thousands of laboratories around the world that work with this plant, from every nucleotide in its genome to what genes are expressed in salt.

The second reason is that its physically small, and it can grow in a small amount of material. Arabidopsis is a huge component of the last 20 years of space-related research. Its been on the space shuttle, so not only do we have a lot of terrestrial data to compare to, but also a whole lot of space-related data to.

The scientists decided that Arabidopsis, aka thale cress, would be the best plant to try in lunar soil for their experiments. During the experiment, thale cress was grown in both volcanic ash and lunar soil samples.

How well did the plant grow in lunar soil?

Despite their similar mineral composition, lunar soil and volcanic ash samples supported the plant growth differently. Many lunar soil plants had the same shape and color, but others were found to contain reddish-black pigments. These pigments indicate stress. Moreover, plants grown in lunar soil experienced slow and reduced growth and expressed more stress genes.

Most dark color plants from the Apollo 11 samples showed a total of 1,000 stress genes. Both the Apollo 11 plants indicated a total of 465 genes, and the Apollo 17 and Apollo 12 samples showed a total of 113 and 265 stress genes. Only the Apollo 11 samples showed signs of growth.

During Apollo investigations, the researcher explains that the samples were collected from various soil layers. During Apollo missions, the Apollo 11 soil sample kept in contact with the Moon''s surface for a much longer time than Apollo 12 and 17 samples. This is why the plant in the Apollo 11 sample did not show any growth.

Plant growth is better suited for lunar soil that has been less exposed to Moons external environment at the end of their study. As compared to volcanic ash, lunar soil samples do not support much plant growth. Since the lunar surface is often affected by solar wind and many kinds of cosmic rays which harm the soil, this is because plants are more susceptible to Moons.

The most important conclusion from the lunar soil experiment

The chemical composition and the presence of metallic fragments make lunar soil-less suitable for plant growth as compared to volcanic ash. However, the biggest advantage from this experiment is that scientists somehow built a plant in a soil sample from the Moon.

Underlining the significance of this scientific findings, co-author and geologist Stephen Elardo said that from a geology standpoint, I think this soil is quite different from any soil on Earth. I think the plant still grows, but it does not die. It does not fail to grow at all, and it adapts.

Further research may enable us to know how plants can be effective grown on the Moon, according to the researchers. Consequently, we must better understand how Earth plants interact with lunar soil.

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