Can plants grow on the Moon?



For the first time, plants can germinate and grow in soil taken from the Moon in a landmark test just published.

For the first time, plants can germinate and grow in soil taken from the Moon in a landmark test just published.

In early May 2022, scientists from the University of Florida (USA) succeeded in growing plants on soil samples taken from the Moon (also known as "regolith" - "topsoil") brought back by NASA's Apollo spacecraft.  This research could lay the groundwork for growing plants that provide oxygen and food to humans on the Moon.

Can plants grow on the Moon?Can plants grow on the Moon? / ph: UFL

The study, published in Communications Biology journal was approved only 18 months ago, but actually went through a proposal process 15 years ago.  Scientists carried out the study on 12 grams (nearly three teaspoons) of soil brought back by the Moon during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions (from 1969 to 1972).

They placed these "historic" soil samples in multiple plastic trays, each with 1 gram of soil, along with water and nutrients, to incubate the seeds of Arabidopsis thaliana. They chose this small flowering plant native to Eurasia and Africa because it has been well studied and decode the genome, allowing them to track the influence of the Moon's soil on the plants.

Research results are quite satisfactory as most of the seeds germinate and grow on dark soil. However, watercress plants show the fact that they are very difficult to grow on the soil of the Moon.  Plants grown on this soil tend to be smaller, slow growing, stunted roots and contain purple pigments that are indicative of "stress".

The study comes at a time when NASA plans to return humans to the Moon as part of the Artemis program.  From this result, the team wants to study more about growing plants on the Moon where plants will face more extreme conditions such as cosmic rays, solar wind, particles in space.

Can plants grow on the Moon?

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