Study suggests you may be able to grow plants on the Moon

Study suggests you may be able to grow plants on the Moon

What do you need to grow your garden? In addition to plenty of sunshine alternating with gentle showers of rain, and busy bees and butterflies to pollinate the plants, you need good, rich soil to provide essential minerals. But imagine that you have no fertile soil, no downpours, no bees and no butterflies. And the sunlight was either too strong and direct or absent, leading to sub-zero temperatures.

Could plants grow in such an environment, and if so, which ones? This is the question that colonists on the Moon (and Mars) would have to address if (or when) human exploration of our planetary neighbors continues. Now a new study, published in Communications Biology, has begun to provide answers.

The researchers behind the study cultivated the fast-growing plant. Arabidopsis thaliana in samples of lunar regolith (soil) brought back from three different places on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts.

However, this is not the first time that plants have been tried to grow in the lunar regolith, but it is the first time that it has been shown why they do not thrive.

Lunar regolith is very different from terrestrial soils. For starters, it doesn’t contain the organic matter (worms, bacteria, decaying plant matter) that is characteristic of Earth’s soil. It also has no inherent water content.

But it is composed of the same minerals as terrestrial soils, so assuming the lack of water, sunlight, and air is alleviated by growing plants within a lunar habitat, then regolith could have the potential to grow plants.

The investigation showed that this is indeed the case. Seeds of a. thaliana they germinated at the same rate in the Apollo material as they did in terrestrial soil. But while the plants in the terrestrial soil developed rootstocks and put out leaves, the Apollo seedlings were stunted and had poor root growth.

The main objective of the research was to examine the plants at the genetic level. This allowed scientists to recognize which specific environmental factors triggered the strongest genetic responses to stress. They found that most of the stress reaction in all of the Apollo seedlings came from salts, metals, and oxygen that is highly reactive (the latter two are not common in terrestrial soil) in the lunar samples.

Image of the plants grown in the experiment.