What’s Growing On: Growing Plants on Lunar Soil

Published: May. 19, 2022 at 5:39 PM EDT|Updated: May. 19, 2022 at 5:40 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - We might not be driving Buicks to the moon just yet, but there are some strides being made in the horticulture department.

UF scientists are now the first to grow plants with soil that’s out of this world... quite literally.

We talk about it a lot just about each week. Plants need the appropriate amount of water and sunlight to thrive on Earth. However, UF scientists have now confirmed the unthinkable. Plants, can in fact, be grown on the moon.

Horticultural scientists Rob Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul were in charge of this research project, that began by asking NASA to invest in their curiosity.

Rob says they took initiative by “putting in a proposal to NASA to be able to ask the question, ‘Do plants grow on lunar soil?’”

Retrieving lunar soils dates back all the way to mankind’s first missions to the moon, but Rob says, “we never, never back in those 50 years ago, asked the question, ‘can plants grow in the soil?’”

Rob and Anna-Lisa worked with just a few teaspoons of lunar regolith, which is the name given to moon dust before scientists knew it could support life.

The regolith was tested side by side with an earth-based soil with a similar makeup, and they compensated for the moon’s lack of sunlight and water by “giving them all a dilute nutrient solution that will help fulfill those kind of nutrient needs that plants need to grow. Otherwise, none of them would get past sort of the tiny-seedling stage.”

In their study, they found that plants can make nutrients found in lunar soil that’s of value to humans.

Anna-Lisa explains that “the iron can be oxidized and made into a form that plants can absorb. They absorb that in their tissues and then they can pass it on to humans. So, plants can essentially mine lunar regolith for materials that are useful to humans.

Both Anna-Lisa and Rob are looking forward to the next phase in which lunar soil is now “conditioned a little bit so what we’d like to understand is how can regolith be made in a more hospitable environment for plants and how we make the next transition into supporting crops.”

A start date to further these findings has not been confirmed yet. But to see the current study, visit here.

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