The last manned flight to the moon was in 1972 as part of Apollo 17. NASA’s Artemis program is set to finally return humans to the near-Earth orb in the 2020s. It is planned to create a lunar base and an annual manned landing. The important question is whether the living conditions on the Earth’s satellite can be improved by agriculture.
To test whether lunar soil could support plant life, Anna Lisa Paul, Stephen Ellardo, and Robert Ferrell of the University of Florida cultured cress seeds (Arabidopsis thaliana) in 12 samples of extraterrestrial soils. The results were published in the journal Nature Communications Biology.. The samples were from the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 lunar missions and consisted of regolith. Regolithic is a mixture of crushed rock and solid molten rock. The researchers studied whether the growth and gene expression of these seedlings differed from those grown in 16 samples of volcanic ash from Earth. The ash is similar in particle size and mineral composition to lunar soil.
The team showed that growth was a challenge for the seedlings: Lunar regolith plants were slower to develop and had more stunted roots than samples grown in volcanic ash. They also expressed genes that signal ionic stress — similar to how plants respond to salt, minerals and reactive oxygen species. Some contained reddish-black pigments – traits also indicative of plant stress. Ferrell and colleagues suggest that the effects of cosmic rays and solar winds on lunar soil, in addition to the presence of small iron particles, trigger stress responses in plants and impair their growth.
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