Earthworms Can Reproduce In Mars-Like Soil: Study

By Allan Adamson | Nov 28, 2017 07:05 AM EST

The first animals to be born in Mars-like soil are two young earthworms. Wieger Wamelink, from the Wageningen University & Research, found the creatures in a Mars soil simulant provided by NASA.

Researchers have been conducting experiments to determine if people can go beyond Earth by growing crops on Mars soil. Feeding a new colony of humans on Mars requires a closed agricultural ecosystem, and worms will play an important role in this.

Two Young Worms Found In Mars Soil Simulant

Researchers have been observing rucola Mars soil simulant, which was provided by the U.S. space agency. Worms and pig slurry have been added to the simulant. The findings revealed that the manure stimulated the growth of the plants, but the best findings came at the end of the experiment, when researchers discovered two young worms in the Mars-like soil.

Worms are important for healthy soil as well as in future indoor gardens on extraterrestrial worlds such as the moon or planet Mars. The worms eat and mix dead organic matter with soil before they excrete them as waste.

The excrements still contain organic matter that is further broken down by bacteria and releases nutrients needed by plants such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. Worms also aerate soil by digging burrows, and this makes watering plants more effective. In earlier experiments, researchers found that worms prove helpful in conditions when water would not easily penetrate the soil.

Growing Crops On Mars And The Moon

The Food for Mars and Moon project works on setting up a sustainable agricultural system that can help feed humans who will live on Mars or the moon in the future. The studies are based on the presence of soil and water, in the form of ice, on the Red Planet. NASA scientists have earlier acknowledged the challenges involved of producing food on Mars.

"Growing plants on Mars is not a trivial matter," Rob Mueller of Advanced Projects Development in the Exploration Research and Technology Program at Kennedy Space Center said.

Researchers use simulants from a volcano in Hawaii in experiments that study Mars soil and simulants from an Arizona desert for experiments that study the feasibility of growing crops on the lunar surface.

Researchers have so far been able to grow a dozen crops on Mars-like soil. These crops include green beans, radish, peas, tomato, potato, carrot, rucola, and garden cress. Researchers analyzed these crops for alkaloids and heavy metals to determine if they are safe for human consumption and found these are safe enough to be eaten.

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