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For the first time, scientists on Earth have grown plants on Moon’s soil, a significant step toward producing food and oxygen on the Moon during future space missions. The soil was brought back to Earth by astronauts in the Apollo missions 11, 12, and 17, respectively. They only had 12 grams — just a few teaspoons — of lunar soil for the experiment. The US researchers at the University of Florida (UF) showed that plants can successfully sprout and grow in lunar soil.

Their study, published in the journal Communications Biology, also investigated how plants respond biologically to the Moon’s soil, also known as lunar regolith, which is very different from soil found on Earth.

The researchers designed a simple experiment: plant seeds in lunar soil, add water, nutrients and light, and record the results.

To grow their tiny lunar garden, the researchers used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates normally used to culture cells. Each well functioned as a pot.

Once they filled each “pot” with approximately a gram of lunar soil, the scientists moistened the soil with a nutrient solution and added a few seeds from the Arabidopsis plant which is widely used in the research because its genetic code has been fully mapped.

Growing Arabidopsis in the Moon’s soil allowed the researchers more insight into how the soil affected the plants, down to the level of gene expression.

The researchers found that nearly all the seeds planted in the lunar soils were able to sprout.

“We were amazed. We did not predict that. That told us that the lunar soils did not interrupt the hormones and signals involved in plant germination,” said Anna-Lisa Paul, one of the study’s authors and a research professor of horticultural sciences in UF/IFAS.

This research comes as NASA’s 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 professor at UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

“For future, longer space missions, we may use the Moon as a hub or launching pad. It makes sense that we would want to use the soil that is already there to grow plants,” Ferl said.