Scientists have for the first time grown plants in lunar soil brought back to Earth by astronauts in the Apollo missions, a step towards producing food and oxygen on the Moon or during future space missions. The researchers at the University of Florida (UF) in the US showed that plants can successfully sprout and grow in lunar soil.

What

  1. Their study also investigated how plants respond biologically to the Moon's soil, also known as lunar regolith, which is very different from soil found on Earth.
  2. This research comes as NASA's Artemis Program plans to return humans to the Moon. Artemis will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space.
  3. To grow their tiny lunar garden, the researchers used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates normally used to culture cells. Each well functioned as a pot.
  4. Once they filled each "pot" with approximately a gram of lunar soil, the scientists moistened the soil with a nutrient solution and added a few seeds from the Arabidopsis plant which is widely used in the research because its genetic code has been fully mapped.
  5. Growing Arabidopsis in the lunar soil allowed the researchers more insight into how the soil affected the plants, down to the level of gene expression.
  6. As points of comparison, the researchers also planted Arabidopsis in JSC-1A, a terrestrial substance that mimics real lunar soil, as well as simulated Martian soils and terrestrial soils from extreme environments.