Scientists grow seeds in soil from the moon

Published May 13, 2022
AN undated handout photo shows saplings sprouting in a small amount of “soil from the moon”.—Reuters
AN undated handout photo shows saplings sprouting in a small amount of “soil from the moon”.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: Scientists for the first time have grown seeds in soil from the moon — samples retrieved during Nasa missions in 1969 and 1972 — in an achievement that heralds the promise of using earthly plants to support human outposts on other worlds.

Researchers said on Thursday they planted seeds of a diminutive flowering weed called Arabidopsis thaliana in 12 small thimble-sized containers each bearing a gram of moon soil, more properly called lunar regolith, and watched as they sprouted and grew. Lunar regolith, with its sharp particles and lack of organic material, differs greatly from Earth soil, so it was unknown whether seeds would germinate.

“When we first saw that abundance of green sprouts cast over all of the samples, it took our breath away,” said horticultural sciences professor Anna-Lisa Paul, director of the University of Florida Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research and co-leader of the study published in the journal Communications Biology.

“Plants can grow in lunar regolith. That one simple statement is huge and opens the door to future exploration using resources in place on the moon and likely Mars,” Paul said.

Every seed germinated and there were no outward differences at the early stages of growth between those sown in the regolith — composed mostly of crushed basalt rocks - and seeds sown for comparative reasons in volcanic ash from Earth with similar mineral composition and particle size.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022

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