Breaking News: Scientists have been able to grow plants in soil made from the Moon!
Over 50 years ago, Apollo astronauts brought back Regolith, oxygen-rich surface grains that cover the Moon and are responsible for its grey colour. Ever since, these samples have been closely protected and studied and this year, researchers at the University of Florida have been able to use the Regolith to grow organic matter!
The team used Thale Cress as their plant of choice, due to it being small and a quickly growing weed. These plants were grown in either Apollo 11, 12 or 17 soil, or they were grown in volcanic ash as a control group. Nutrients were added daily.
What happened to the researchers’ surprise was that all cress seeds germinated and grew!
After about 6 days it was clear, however, that the Apollo plants were not growing as quickly as their volcanic counterparts. It was when the plants were ground up and underwent DNA sequencing (DNA is made of four bases: Cytosine, Thymine, Guanine and Adenine. Sequencing determines the order of these) that the scientists discovered that the Lunar plants were under high stress and hence their sequence was a little different than normal. This explained the stunted growth and red spots in some cases.
Regardless, it is amazing that the seeds even germinated in the first place! I think this discovery could greatly improve the longevity of human missions to the Moon, especially if scientists can find out how to make the Regolith less stressful. I would love for this study to be expanded to include Martian Regolith, however it is well known that Mars’ soil is highly toxic to humans and especially plants. That really does make me grateful for Earth!