Aninnovative study conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University and Brown University has revealed the potential for growing chickpeas in lunar regolith simulants (LRS), marking a significant milestone in space agriculture and long-term human space missions.
Jessica Atkin, a M.S. student in Soil Science at Texas A&M University, the study explores innovative methods to cultivate food in extraterrestrial environments, where conventional soil is absent. Atkin emphasized the challenges posed by the moon’s barren landscape, including the absence of organic material and microorganisms crucial for plant growth, alongside factors like reduced gravity, radiation, and toxic elements.
The research focused on investigating the relationship between Vermicompost (VC) and Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) to create an effective LRS structure for growing chickpeas (Cicer arietinum). AMF aids in plant growth hormone production, while VC, containing worm manure, enhances seed growth. The experiments involved various combinations of LRS, VC, and AMF, with promising results observed within a short period.
The researchers achieved 100% seed growth by day 16, with continued growth observed through subsequent weeks. The study marks the first documented instance of growing chickpeas in LRS, utilizing soil regeneration techniques commonly practiced on Earth.
Despite promising results, the researchers noted signs of chlorophyll deficiency in all plants grown in LRS. Chlorophyll is essential for photosynthesis, and while deficiencies were observed, visible improvements were noted by week seven, indicating successful AMF colonization.
The significance of this study extends beyond scientific discovery, aligning with NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the lunar surface. Successfully growing plants using lunar regolith, known as in situ resource utilization (ISRU), could revolutionize space exploration by reducing the reliance on Earth for food and soil supply.
Jessica Atkin highlighted the novelty of using vermiculture in space, emphasizing its potential for reducing the need for resupply missions, not only for NASA’s Artemis program but also for future commercial space stations like the planned Axiom Station.
The study underscores the progress made in space agriculture, following previous research at the University of Florida, where Arabidopsis thaliana was successfully grown in lunar regolith. The latest findings demonstrate a significant leap towards sustainable food production in extraterrestrial environments, paving the way for future space missions and exploration endeavours.