For the First Time Ever, Plants are Growing in Soil From the Moon!

Scientists have shown that plants can grow in lunar soil.

May 27, 2022
For the First Time Ever, Plants are Growing in Soil From the Moon! | Scientists have shown that plants can grow in lunar soil.

Space has been getting a lot of hype recently. With the nonchalance of another billionaire jetting to the stars or talk of space economies with space hotels already in development, the question still preoccupies many. Can there really be life in space? 

Well, scientists are saying yes. According to CNN, for the first time ever, scientists at the University of Florida, as documented in a study published this month in journal Communications Biology have been able to grow earth plants in soil from another celestial body, giving insight into life's potential on the moon. Plants supply oxygen and food for the people and animals on earth and if they are able to grow on the moon, this means that people can potentially thrive there too.

Lunar soil collected during NASA space missions
The team of researchers were curious about regolith, the soil-like loose layer on top of the moon's surface, and if it could provide an environment for earth’s plants to grow in. Lunar soil is much harsher than earth’s, so as the scientist boldly requested four grams of lunar soil from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), they remained cautious. According to CNN, the request made it to Ryan Zeigler, NASA’s Apollo sample curator, and supplied the team with eight more grams than requested that were collected from Apollo Missions 11,12 and 17, to give the researchers a more diverse soil set. 

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“That made a big difference,” Anna-Lisa Paul, one of the project’s lead scientists, tells CNN about NASA’s support of their research. It enabled her team “to take a deeper look into the science and the effects of lunar regolith on plants than we would have otherwise been able to do.”

Lunar soil can provide an environment for terrestrial plants
The team began to investigate. They filled plastic trays used for cell culture with lunar soil, nutrients and water. They settled seeds of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering weed plant known as “thale cress”, into each cell, according to CNN. After some weeks, the team was stunned. Arabidopsis sprouts started to appear. "We did not predict that," Paul told CNN. "That told us that the lunar soils didn't interrupt the hormones and signals involved in plant germination." 

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However, the sprouts didn’t endure, according to ScienceAlert, an online new source for scientific discoveries and articles. The research showed that when compared to the control group, aridapose seeds planted in earth soil from extreme environments with additional soil simulants to mimic properties of lunar soil, the lunar soil-sprouting plants were still much smaller, slower-growing and had stunted roots. Some of the lunar plants turned purple and this had the researchers concerned. 

The plants were stressed in the lunar soil
Thale cress is used in many scientific experiments because it is easy to grow and care for. Additionally, it's one of the plant species of which the full genome is available, so scientists have the ability to take a look at how the plant DNA is different in the lunar soil environment. 

"At the genetic level, the plants were pulling out the tools typically used to cope with stressors, such as salt and metals or oxidative stress, so we can infer that the plants perceive the lunar soil environment as stressful," Paul said in an interview reported by ScienceAlert. 

One small step for plants, one giant leap for mankind
While the plants faced obstacles, the fact that they could grow shows a bright future for human life in space. With further plans to conduct more studies using lunar soil, the researchers hope to determine the most efficient way to grow plants in it. 

In a report by CBC news, Sharmila Bhattacharya, the chief scientist of NASA’s space biology program, was excited by the research and that it provides follow-up opportunities to work out how to make the plants grow even better in a lunar environment. But she tells CBC, "The fact that anything grew means that we have a really good starting point, and now the question is how do we optimize and improve.”

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Yael has a passion for research and discovery and devoted her studies to science. She is fascinated by anything technology related and how it can improve people’s lives. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, swimming and storytelling.