To produce food on the Moon, humans would have to modify the local soil in some way to make it more suitable for plants, as well as incorporate genetic variations in plant species to make them more hardy. This is confirmed by the first cultivation of plant species on lunar land, specifically in samples collected during the Apollo missions, in the 1970s.
Researchers from the University of Florida, in the United States, have recently carried out the first experience of growing plants on lunar soil. The results indicate that lunar soil, also known as lunar regolith, is not very good for growing plants: however, the researchers believe that the gene expression data they can help improve responses to stress, until plants can grow effectively on lunar soil.
According to a press release, the scientists carried out the experiment in lunar soil samples that had been collected in the framework of the Apollo missions, during the 1970s. The specialists’ conclusions were summarized in a new study published recently in the journal Communications Biology.
Food and oxygen on the Moon
The work is an initial step toward growing plants for food and oxygen on the Moon or during space missions. The investigation occurs when at the same time the Artemis Program NASA plans to bring humans back to our natural satellite in 2025, with the idea of establishing a lunar base in 2031.
In that framework, the group of researchers concluded that Artemis will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space. The thing is a basis in Moon must be self sufficient: food production through agriculture should be one of the axes of that independence with respect to land resources.
Although scientists have shown that plants can successfully sprout and grow on lunar soilalso found that they do not reach the same size and development characteristics that can be seen on Earth: they must withstand the stress related to an environment for which they are not prepared.
land with low fertility
Researchers know that plants can better support human life on other worlds by providing oxygen and a food source. However, their growth depends on the ability of plants to thrive in alien environmentsusing on-site resources that are in principle alien to them.
The plantations carried out in the samples collected by the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions showed that the variety Arabidopsis thalianagermina it can grow on various lunar regoliths. Despite this, the results indicate that growth is a challenge: lunar regolith plants developed slowly and many showed morphologies related to severe stress.
For experts, although in situ lunar regoliths may be useful for plant production in lunar habitats, are not benign substrates. Consequently, they believe that work must be done at the genetic level so that plant species can develop new capacities and stop perceiving the lunar soil as a stressful environment. In the same sense, they believe that the land should also be optimized in some way, thinking about crops that are grown on the land of the Moon.
Plants grown in Apollo lunar regolith present stress-associated transcriptomes that inform prospects for lunar exploration. Paul, AL., Elardo, SM & Ferl, R. Communications Biology (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-022-03334-8