Thale Cress plants were grown in regolith (the fine dust that covers the surface of the moon’s surface), using samples from Apollo missions. However, they produce small and stunted
12 May 2022
By Carissa Wong
Thale cress, a small flowering plant, has been grown in lunar regolith – the powdery material on the surface of the moon – for the first time, using samples collected during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions.
“Showing that plants will grow on lunar soil is actually a huge step in that direction of being able to establish ourselves in lunar colonies,” said Robert Ferl at the University of Florida at a press briefing on 11 May.
” When humans move as civilisations… our agriculture always goes with us. He said that the ability to successfully take plants to the moon is what will allow us to grow our own food.
Ferl and his colleagues at the University of Florida planted thale cress seeds in 4 grams of lunar soil from each of the three Apollo missions and tracked their growth over 20 days. They also used terrestrial volcanic ash as a control to grow seeds that resemble soil from the moon.
Within 60 hours of planting, the researchers found that seeds had germinated in all the soil samples. They removed some seedlings from each gram of soil between day 6 and 8. They found that roots in lunar soil were more stunted than those in terrestrial soil.
Over time, they discovered that lunar soil leaves had smaller leaves and darker pigmentation than those in terrestrial soil.
“They do grow in lunar regolith, but they grow as if they are stressed,” said team member Anna-Lisa Paul.
After 20 days, the team harvested the plants and analysed their gene activity. The genes involved in stress management were more active in plants that were grown in lunar soil.
” The primary reason plants respond to stress is because lunar regolith is very different from terrestrial [soil],. It’s low in carbon, oxygen and nitrogen… the nutrients plants need. The lunar regolith is very fine-grained and powdery… but the fragments can be very sharp and angular. It’s very abrasive, it abraded spacesuits,” said Stephen Elardo.
The researchers also found that soil collected from the Apollo 11 mission was more toxic to plants than that taken from the Apollo 12 and 17 missions. They say this is probably because the Apollo 11 soil had been exposed to cosmic wind at the lunar surface for longer than the other samples.
” We could reduce that by being careful about where we mine materials to grow plants [on the moon],”, said Paul.
But, eating thale cress would not provide much nutrition. “As for useability of human life support, [thale cress] is not a good candidate; it’s too small to produce meani