A small step in lunar planting Studies have found that plants grow more slowly in lunar soils and have large genetic differences

Researchers are collecting Arabidopsis thaliana in lunar soils from Tyler Jones

Put the plants in the experiment into a tube ready for genetic analysis In the picture from Tyler Jones

Scientists have experimentally studied the feasibility of plant growth on the moon, showing that Arabidopsis plants grow more slowly in lunar soil samples and show more signs of stress than in Earth’s volcanic ash. These lunar soils are samples collected during the Apollo mission. The authors note that these findings suggest that in order for plants to grow effectively in lunar soils, the interaction between plants and lunar soils needs to be further studied. The findings were published in Communications-Biology on May 12.

Robert Ferl and colleagues at the University of Florida in the United States tested whether lunar soil could support plant life by having Arabidopsis thaliana, a flowering plant from Europe and Africa, grow in twelve soil samples collected by the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 lunar missions.

Because the samples collected on each mission came from different soil layers, Apollo 11 samples were exposed to the lunar surface longer than Apollo 12 and 17 samples. The researchers examined differences in growth and gene expression between these plants, as well as those grown in Arabidopsis thaliana in 16 Samples of Earth’s volcanic ash (the particle size and mineral composition of the ash are similar to those in lunar soil).

Anna-Lisa Paul (left) and Rob Ferl (right) are operating lunar soil in the lab Image by Tyler Jones

Rob Ferl is weighing lunar soil, and the samples have been sealed in test tubes since they were brought back from Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions. Image by Tyler Jones

The researchers found that while seeds can grow in all soil environments, plants in lunar soil grow more slowly than in volcanic ash, take longer to spread their leaves, and have more growth stagnation roots. While some lunar soil plants are similar in shape and color to those grown in volcanic ash, others are hindered in growth and contain reddish melanin, a typical sign of plant stress. Genetic analysis of three smaller, darker plants showed that they had more than 1,000 genes (mostly associated with stress) at different levels of expression than plants in volcanic ash.

By day 16 there were already significant physiological differences between plants in the ash (left) and plants in the lunar soil (right) Picture from Tyler Jones

In addition, the researchers found that the plants grown in the Apollo 11 samples grew weaker than the plants in the Apollo 12 and 17 samples, expressing more different levels of genes than the plants in the volcanic ash. Plants in the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 samples expressed 465, 265 and 113 different levels of genes, respectively. 71% of these genes are associated with stress caused by salts, metals, and reactive oxygen species.

Anna-Lisa Paul is working on delicate plant collection for subsequent genetic analysis. Image by Tyler Jones

These findings suggest that lunar soil, while useful for cultivation, supports plant growth at a lower level than volcanic ash — especially those that are more exposed to the lunar surface. The researchers speculate that cosmic rays and solar wind destroy lunar soils, and that these lunar soils contain tiny iron particles that induce stress responses in plants that impair their development. (Source: China Science Daily Feng Lifei)

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