For the first time, Scientists grew seeds in the soil from the moon- samples retrieved during the NASA missions in 1969 and 1972- an achievement that is symbolic of the promise of using earthly plants to provide human outposts in other worlds.
On May 12, researchers said that they planted seeds of a diminutive flowering weed called Arabidopsis thaliana in 12 small thimble-sized containers. Each contained had a gram of moon soil, precisely called lunar regolith, and was observed as it sprouted new branches. Lunar regolith differs from Earth soil due to its sharp particles, and also it is deprived of organic material. Therefore, it was doubtful if seeds would grow in it.
“Plants can grow in the lunar regolith. That one simple statement is huge and opens the door to future exploration using resources in place on the moon and likely Mars,” Ms. Paul said.
There was no outward difference at the nascent stage of growth between those sown in the regolith- composed of crushed basalt rocks and seeds sown for comparative reasons in volcanic ash from Earth with similar mineral composition and particle size.
The regolith seeds did not perform less than the comparison plants. They were generally littler, and slower to grow. They had more stunted roots and were more fit to show stress-related traits like smaller leaves and deep reddish-black coloration, not symbolic of healthy growth. They also exhibited gene activity, which indicated stress, similar to plant reactions to metal, salt, and oxidation.
Arabidopsis, also known as thale cress, is majorly used in scientific research, including previous experiments in orbit, due to its speedy life cycle and deep knowledge of its genetics.
The seeds sprouted within three days. After a week of growth, the analysts eliminated all but one plant from each container. It was allowed to grow for 20 days, with its leaves then harvested to assess gene activity.
The researchers also observed that regolith that had witnessed long exposure to cosmic rays and solar wind on the lunar surface was less responsive to growth.