Study suggests you can grow plants on the Moon

What do you need to make your garden grow? In addition to plenty of sunshine alternating with gentle rains – and busy bees and butterflies to pollinate the plants – you need good, rich soil to provide essential minerals. But imagine that you have no rich soil, no rain, no bees and butterflies. And sunlight was either too strong and direct or absent – ​​causing freezing temperatures.

Could plants grow in such an environment – ​​and if so, which ones? This is the question colonists on the Moon (and Mars) would have to resolve if (or when) human exploration of our planetary neighbors goes ahead. 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 lunar regolith (soil) samples brought back from three different places on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts.

This is not the first time that attempts have been made to grow plants in the lunar regolith, but it is the first to demonstrate why they do not thrive.

Lunar regolith is very different from terrestrial soils. For starters, it contains no organic matter (worms, bacteria, decaying plant matter) that is characteristic of Earth’s soil. Nor does it have an inherent water content.

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

Research has shown that this actually happens. seeds of A. thaliana germinated at the same rate in Apollo material as they did in terrestrial soil. But while plants in terrestrial soil began to develop rootstocks and produce leaves, Apollo seedlings stunted and had poor root growth.

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

Image of the plants grown in the experiment.