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Scientists grow plants in lunar soil brought by Neil Armstrong for the first time

The Apollo scientists that went to space brought back samples of lunar soil known as regolith to the earth for research and 50 years later scientists were able to grow plants in the lunar soil. The ground-breaking experiment, detailed in the journal Communications Biology on Thursday (May 12), has given researchers hope that it may be possible to one day grow plants directly on the Moon.

“This research is critical to NASA’s long-term human exploration goals as we’ll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This fundamental plant growth research is also a key example of how NASA is working to unlock agricultural innovations that could help us understand how plants might overcome stressful conditions in food-scarce areas here on Earth.”

However, according to the study’s University of Florida authors, much remains to be studied on the topic, and they intend to leave no stone unturned.

“This research is critical to Nasa’s long-term human exploration goals,” said Bill Nelson, the head of the US space agency. “We’ll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space.”

For their experiment, the researchers used just 12 grams (a few teaspoons) of lunar soil collected from various spots on the Moon during the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions.

In a controlled experiment, researchers put about 1 gram of lunar soil, water and nutrients for the plant to grow. Arabidopsis thaliana, a relative of mustard greens, was chosen for the experiment as it grows easily and, most importantly, has been studied extensively. Its genetic code and responses to hostile environments – even in space – are well known.

https cdn.cnn .com cnnnext dam assets 220511155804 06 plants lunar soil

After 2 days the plants sprouted in the lunar soil, their growth was observed and was compared to the ones growing in earth soil. 

“Every plant – whether in a lunar sample or in a control – looked the same up until about day 6,” Anna-Lisa Paul, lead author of the paper, said in a statement.

The major difference between the plants growing in lunar soil and earth soil was the stunted growth. DNA analysis showed that plants reacted similarly to the plants grown in hostile environments on earth for example soil with too much salt, or heavy metals.

This study was of immense importance as NASA is planning to send humans back to the moon. Humans as a species are also aiming to become an intergalactic species so growing food on new soils would be an important step in the process.

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