If you’ve ever dreamed of going to the moon and planting a garden, you’re probably in luck. A new study has successfully grown plants in lunar soil for the first time.
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Scientists at the University of Florida managed to sprout cress in soil samples collected by the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions. “When humans moved as civilizations, we always took our agriculture with us,” said study co-author Robert Fair, according to the Natural History Museum website. “This is going to be very important on the moon. The ability to successfully harvest plants is how we grow our own food, purify our air and clean our water; something that can keep us there for a while. We can grow plants hydroponically, But the idea of bringing lunar soil into a lunar greenhouse is the stuff of lunar exploration dreams.”
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These new lunar plantlets are not as robust as those grown in terrestrial soil. In fact, the study states, “Lunar regolith plants develop slowly, and many exhibit severe stress patterns. In addition, all plants growing in lunar soils differentially express genes indicative of ionic stress, similar to how plants respond to salt, metal and reactive oxygen species.” Regolith, the loose blanket of broken rock and dust covering bedrock, exists in places like Earth, Mars, and the Moon. The leaves of the lunar plant also showed red and black discoloration associated with metabolic stress and poor health. The older the soil, the less viable the plants are due to prolonged exposure to the solar wind and cosmic radiation.
Despite the subpar growth, scientists are greatly encouraged because growing space plants has long been a priority. The Soviets have had the right to brag about space plants since 1966, when they launched some seeds into orbit that would later grow on Earth. But that and subsequent space plants didn’t grow from lunar soil.
Why are space plants so important? That’s because plants can help solve some of outer space’s most daunting problems, such as lack of food and oxygen. If we could grow vegetables in space, not only would we be able to eat them, but plants could convert exhaled carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Of course, many environmentalists are disturbed by the idea that humans leaving the planet are like rats abandoning a sinking ship, just to sow our shenanigans elsewhere.
Via Natural History Museum, Time
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