Plants can grow in lunar soil, according to new research. Chinese scientists sowed tobacco seeds in a substrate imitating extraterrestrial regolith and observed their development for over three weeks. However, to achieve optimal growth, it was necessary to enrich the soil with bacteria.
One of the biggest challenges facing lunar pioneers will be finding food – the conditions on the Silver Globe are not friendly to animals and plants. For space farming to become a reality, it will be necessary to develop systems for regulating temperature, radiation and air composition, and in the case of crops, also to provide appropriate soil. A study on this last issue was published in “Communications Biology”.
With the help of bacteria
In the study, scientists from the China Agricultural University used simulated regolith, i.e. lunar soil. Volcanic material was used to create a substrate with properties reminiscent of the soil on the Silver Globe. Tobacco seeds of this species were sown into vessels filled with it Nicotiana benthamiana – it is very often used as a model plant. Some of the plants received help in the form of selected phosphorus bacteria, used on Earth to increase the absorption of this element.
After 24 days, plants appeared in all samples. However, the researchers noticed that plants growing in soil containing strains of microorganisms developed longer stems and roots, as well as more numerous and wider leaves, compared to those growing in soil without microorganisms. Thanks to the bacteria, the soil became more acidic, increasing the solubility of phosphorus-binding minerals and increasing its availability.
Oxygen source and food
A plant-growing system on the Moon could help meet the food and oxygen needs of extraterrestrial bases, scientists have explained. Plants produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, the biological process by which they convert sunlight into energy.
– Given the enormous scientific and economic potential of the Moon, in the future we will have to establish manned lunar bases. But how can we provide crew members with food, oxygen and water? – asks Yitong Xia, the lead author of the study.
The authors added that there are many other technologies that could be used to grow plants on the Silver Globe – transporting soil to the Moon, hydroponics or the use of soil substitutes such as hydrogels. These methods, however, have one serious limitation – they must be carried into extraterrestrial space on rockets, which is extremely expensive. According to Xia, improving the microbiological conditions of lunar soil will help avoid additional costs.
Reuters, Communications Biology
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