“Scientists Grow Plants in Moon Soil – A First in Human History”

“Scientists have grown plants in soil from the Moon, a first in human history and a watershed moment in lunar and space exploration.

In a new research paper published in the journal Communications Biology on May 12, 2022, University of Florida scientists showed that plants can successfully sprout and grow in lunar soil. Their study also looked into how plants respond biologically to the Moon’s soil, also known as lunar regolith, which is radically different from typical soil found on Earth.

This research is a first step toward growing plants for food and oxygen on the Moon or during space missions in the future. More immediately, this research comes as the Artemis Program plans to return humans to the Moon.

“Artemis will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space,” said Rob Ferl, one of the study’s authors and a distinguished professor of horticultural sciences in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Anna-Lisa Paul, left, and Rob Ferl, working with lunar soils in their lab. Credit: UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones

Even in the early days of lunar exploration, plants played an important role, said Anna-Lisa Paul, also one of the study’s authors and a research professor of horticultural sciences in UF/IFAS.

“Plants helped establish that the soil samples brought back from the moon did not harbor pathogens or other unknown components that would harm terrestrial life, but those plants were only dusted with the lunar regolith and were never actually grown in it,” Paul said.

Paul and Ferl are internationally recognized experts in the study of plants in space. Through the UF Space Plants Lab, they have sent experiments on space shuttles, to the International Space Station, and on suborbital flights.

Comment: Well, pilgrims, this is a big one. This means that we will be able to grow provisions on the moon and the potential for exhaled gases from the plants is yet to be explored. pl

Scientists Grow Plants in Moon Soil – A First in Human History (scitechdaily.com)

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22 Responses to “Scientists Grow Plants in Moon Soil – A First in Human History”

  1. RHT447 says:

    This is huge. I’m guessing the next big hurdle, on the moon at least, is water.

    • different clue says:

      Capture little ice-ball comets and aim them at the moon. The delivery vehicle “is” the payload.

  2. TTG says:

    This certainly is a big one. Although we have a long way to go before we come up with a plant that grows well in lunar soil and provides sufficient human nutrition, we have the path forward mapped and the tools needed to get there. Between SpaceX and the Boring Company, Elon should be able to bring back enough lunar soil to put this botanical experimentation into overdrive.

    I found a good chemical analysis of lunar soil samples if anyone here is into soil science. I wonder how it compares to homemade bonsai soil made with mostly crushed volcanic rock.

    https://sites.wustl.edu/meteoritesite/items/the-chemical-composition-of-lunar-soil/

    • cofer says:

      “Although we have a long way to go before we come up with a plant that grows well in lunar soil and provides sufficient human nutrition,”
      What were they doing for the past 50 years?

      • TTG says:

        cofer,

        There’s not enough lunar soil in our possession to do the testing. The article shows the length these botanist had to go to in order to grow these samples.

    • different clue says:

      I am just an amateur science buff and an amateur gardener and reader -of-books about agronomy, gardening and so forth. So I make sure to put that disclaimer right at the front of my comment.

      Any growing on the moon would have to be done under containment in order to keep the artificial little bubble of atmosphere we would provide for the plants from escaping. Probably arrays of cheap-ish greenhouses dispersed from eachother just enough so that every impacting mini-meteor will destroy only a few greenhouses at a time, leaving the rest intact to keep the crews well fed enough to keep repairing the damaged greenhouses as mini-meteors keep damaging them. Eventually mini-meteor strikes would be so taken-for-granted as to be referred to as “space hail”. As long as the moon-growers have enough spare greenhouse capacity to always keep ahead of the space hail, the space-hail can be lived with, and will be.

      I heard on a news report that the lunar regolith is much tinier pieces with much sharper edges than the terran regolith which plants have spent hundreds of millions of years getting used to. Roots don’t like it and physically suffer trying to grow through it.

      Soil is not just a thing. It is a place where things happen. Those biological things smooth off the sharpest corners and leach-dissolve plant-desired minerals from out of the soil mineral particles. So part of turning lunar regolith into lunar soil might well involve bringing up the whole suite of creatures who transform regolith to soil here on earth. All the relevant bacteria, earthworms, etc. Feed them long enough to get them beginning to “terraform” the regolith, and then the plants growing therein will start supporting the relevant creatures to continue and deepen the bio-terraforming process.

      Crushed earthside volcanic rock has a wider range of minerals. The missing minerals would have to be supplied. Any missing elements ( cobalt, molybdenum, boron, etc. etc.) can be brought up to the moon-house soil to keep it going long enough to feed garden-mineral expeditions searching the moon surface for more of those relevant minerals right there on the moon for bringing back to the lunar greenhouses.

      Impoa. ( In my purely amateur opinion).

  3. Lars says:

    Plant St. Augustine grass up there and in no time the whole place will be covered.

  4. JK/AR says:

    Heck Lars, All,

    If there’s a smidge of an opportunity to soon grow anything on the moon I suggest (based on my Ozarks Mountains life experience) Have those gardeners launch a rocketship to the moon loaded with ‘Pokeberries’ (those plants carry their own bacteria and trace elements with ’em).

    Poke is a “self-starter” so to speak. Better’n even that St. Augustine. Way more!

    Just *ask Tony Joe White the, in my estimation, real progenitor of what’s since been come to be acknowledged the Can Do Plant.

    Of course everybody is aware of Tony Joe’s ‘Poke Salad Annie’ – Leastwise ’round these parts I reckon but, nonetheless a musical interlude. And, given the crowd around these parts a nod to, perhaps, the tellingest line – given the subjects lately, including farming on the moon:

    “A breeze came to the door with empty eyes”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsB6AYGOeeI

    (A shout-out to TTG for typing “I’ve seen discussions of bonsai soil that get damned near Talmudic in their intensity.” … Got me to guffawing so to inspire the comment. & Offered interlude.)

    • different clue says:

      I used to eat pokeweed leaves sometimes. One is supposed to boil them and discard the water at least once to leach out certain poisons. Then why even eat them? Because they taste good and the process is fun sometimes and the plant is so interesting.

      Perhaps plant-breeders could get interested in selecting for and breeding up from low poison poke towards no poison poke. It would add a new reliable greens plant to the ones we already have.

      Focusing on earthside gardening itself, I wonder how aggressive the pokeweed root is at drilling down through stiff resistant clay, given how huge the underground root can get over time. I wonder whether a method of developing a very deep soil bed for high intensity gardening might involve growing a bunch of fairly close-packed poke weeds for several years to punch their roots several feet down . . . then killing them in place so that the dead roots can rot in place leaving behind several-foot-deep channels into the soil for super-deep loosening. ( Kill them in place how? I would suggest by picking the spring you decide to kill them and then cutting off all the new shoots that emerge and eating them, just as with asparagus. Keep cutting and eating till you exhaust their underground root-storage food reserves and they starve, wear out and die in place).

  5. A. Pols says:

    No real surprises here. Mineral compositions would include what plants need. Add water and plants grow. Terraforming the moon? Too little gravity= any gases just go bye bye into space.

    • different clue says:

      Yes. The “terraforming” would have to be in airtight/gastight chambers. Perhaps on the surface, perhaps carved into the subsurface ( live-in caves). The moon will probably be a training base and a research place for how to live off-earth rather than a place of off-earth settlement in its own right.

  6. d74 says:

    Ars Technica title: “Plants will grow in lunar regolith, but they don’t like it
    Even the healthiest-looking plants faced stress from unusual minerals present.”

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2022/05/plants-can-grow-in-lunar-soil-but-very-poorly/

    Apart from my little garden, my flowers and my plum tree, I know nothing about soil cultivation.
    However, why bother with soil? Industrial gardeners have been growing tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries from almost nothing but sand for a long time You need water with additives. Lots of water on the moon?

    By the way, at the Milan World Fair 2015, the US pavilion made a rather convincing demonstration of vertical farming. Pdt Obama, on a big screen, promoted the concept as the future for vegetable growing.

    • different clue says:

      I would like to see total-nutrient-readouts on those hydroponic and vertiponic fruits and vegetables compared to total-nutrient-readouts on soil-grown fruits and vegetables.

      And would “true gourmets” be able to taste-test the difference even if blindfolded? If they were, then that would mean that there is a difference.

      And of course there is also a shelf-life and storage test. How long would a certain kind of hydroponic fruit or vegetable last in storage or on the shelf as against the exact same kind of fruit or vegetable grown in soil? Better nourished plant-cells remain bio-viable longer and able to defend themselves against mold/rot/decay longer than worse nourished ones.

      ( And sometimes genetics enters into it too, of course. Last October I picked some volunteer yellow plum tomatoes from a vine growing feral in front of a local Panera outlet. Here we are in mid-May and the ones I picked and put in a paper bag are still un-rotted/ un-decayed/ un-molded/ un-shrunken in that same bag. I keep “meaning to” pull out the seeds for replanting. Maybe I will really do it. I tried eating a couple. They weren’t exactly “good” but they were very interesting. They reminded me of those crispy California tomatoes with that fresh cucumber taste).

  7. Fred says:

    Why has it taken 5 decades to perform this experiment? This soil came back with the Apollo missions. What was NASA doing with it in all that time?

  8. different clue says:

    There is another possible way that elements which plants need but could not get in various off-earth environments could be . . . Biological Transmutation of Elements.

    I believe that mainstream anglophone science still treats this concept with sneering contempt. ” Who could believe such a silly thing?”

    A French research scientist named Louis Kervran became interested in the possibility decades ago and did the kind of research, together with describing all his experiments and all his materials and methods, which allow the experiments to be replicated by anyone who wants to. For example, he took two equal-sized bunches of fertilized chicken eggs and whizzed up one equal-sized bunch upon being laid and measured all the calcium findable in the shell and contents together. He allowed the other equal-sized bunch to mature to hatching-stage, and then whizzed them all up, shell and about-to-hatch chicks together ( one hopes with suitable pain prevention built right in) and measured the calcium in the whizzed up contents. He found way more calcium in the shell-chicks combination than in the shell-freshly laid egg combination. Where had the calcium come from? Obviously from transforming non-calcium into calcium within the growing chick. But how?

    He wrote a book about this called Biological Transmutations. Here is a link about it.
    https://www.allbookstores.com/Biological-Transmutations-Louis-Kervran-Michel/9780916508470
    ( Present day search-prevention/search-obstruction engines make it very hard to find out anything about this book or about many other things.)

    Here is a link to some papers about biological transmutation of elements within living systems. I haven’t read these papers so don’t know how replicatable they are.
    But the Louis Kervran experiments are very replicable, for those who want to either debunk or rebunk the results for themselves.
    https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Biological-Transmutations-Bib%C3%A9rian/dcdfbb353704858b454c2f28c56d977c810509d0

    If this is all as true as I think it is, then plants off-earth could transmute certain elements they are given, into certain elements they need . . . . if the off-earth planet could give them the right elements to be transmuted.

    • Barbara Ann says:

      different clue

      And I thought alchemy was a thing of the past. Moon veg can wait, let’s get the gene editors teamed up with Louis Kervran and get my hens laying golden eggs.

      More seriously, Kervran’s book is on Amazon and quite easy to find and so is the top review – by a physicist who is not impressed. I try to keep an open mind and refrain from sneering contempt, but if chickens can do cold nuclear fusion one does have to ask why we are wasting our time & billions of dollars with tokamaks and lasers & stuff.

      • different clue says:

        You are technically correct in that it is easily gotten from Amazon. Since I never ever link to Amazon, never ever . . . I should have said that it is harder to get this book from NOmazon sources. I got my copy years ago from the Acres USA bookstore.
        Pike Agri-Lab Supplies in Maine also used to carry it.

        I don’t care if a physicist is not impressed. I am provisionally impressed and if others are “impressed”, let them replicate some of Kervran’s experiments and show that they get anti-Kervran results. I myself suspect that the “a physicist” is just scared.

        Kervran did not mention the chickens doing cold nuclear fusion. He noted them performing elemental bio-transmutation. If anyone can replicate the Kervran experiments and show no such thing is happening, they are welcome to do so.

        The confusion between cold nuclear fusion and biological elemental transmutation is entirely yours, and is not my problem. And not my responsibility to help you clear up.

  9. glupi says:

    Jeff Bezos’ vision of the future: all Earth is a nature reserve, chosen few live on planet, the rest of humanity exists in space hives

    May space agriculture not turn into Splitting of the Atom 0.2

    • different clue says:

      Everyone who ever bought or ever buys a single thing from Amazon is supporting the Jeff Bezos’s multibillionaire oligarch vision for the his-chosen-few recreating here on their Private Preserve Planet Earth and for the rest of us space hivers out in space.

      So far I have maintained a perfect record of not buying a single thing from Amazon. So far.

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