Wieger Wamelink, Mars and Moon soil researcher may have just opened doors to grow crops on Martian soil when humans get there.
Soil is necessary for agriculture and its one of the basic necessity for life as it provides food. It contains all nutrients by nature on Earth and earthworms only makes the soil healthier – they do break down and recycle dead organic matter. This is how we know the ecosystem works on Earth; however Mars’s soil is more sterile and contains toxic compounds.
Wageningen University & Research has been researching and growing rucola on Mars soil simulant which they obtained by NASA. They added worms and manure to enrich the soil as in agriculture. The outcome was good, made the soil healthier, simulated growth and even the worms were active.
And then, even more fascinating thing happened. They found two tiny worms in the Mars soil simulant. Yes, it’s reproduced – on Mars soil simulant.
Worms actually grabs the organic matter, eat it, and chew it and go hand in hand with the soil before they poop. This poop contains organic matter, is broken down by bacteria which releases nutrients necessary for the plants to grow.
Every good story has a twist. So, here is this one’s – the soil in Mars contain a compound called perchlorates. Plants and can very well grow with this compound, however when the plants are consumed by humans – it’s lethal. Worms were even exposed to high levels of perchlorates – here comes the bad news, they did not survive (most of them).
So now, the scientists has to figure out a way to remove this compound from the red planet’s soil. Wamelink plans to research the type of bacteria and fungi that could help the Martian soil habitable.
The research has one other hurdle to overcome, how to fertilize the plants. As of now, it’s been done manually which could be a tad tedious on Mars.
Source: phys.org, nationalgeographic.com