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There's no life on the Moon, but one day there might be. Earlier this year, in what was described as a seminal achievement, scientists grew Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) plants in lunar soil samples brought back during the Apollo missions.
After waiting 15 years for permission from NASA to utilize the lunar regolith (soil) samples, researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences claimed success, with some caveats. While the work was the first time plants have sprouted in soil from somewhere besides Earth, it wasn't easy for them. They were smaller, grew more slowly, had stunted roots, and many showed signs of stress when compared to plants grown in Earth soils.
"At the genetic level, the plants were pulling out the tools typically used to cope with stressors, such as salt and metals or oxidative stress, so we can infer that the plants perceive the lunar soil environment as stressful," said study co-author Anna-Lisa Paul.
Still, the achievement offers promise for life-sustaining plant life, should colonies one day be attempted on the Moon. "For future, longer space missions, we may use the Moon as a hub or launching pad," said study co-author Rob Ferl.
The surface of the Moon:
- Water exists in the form of ice trapped inside dust and minerals on the dark side of the Moon.
- Apollo 11 astronauts were the first to collect lunar soil samples, in 1969.
- The Moon's soil is quite different from Earth's as it was created mostly by micrometeorites striking the surface for 4.5 billion years.