An experiment that resulted in several flowering plants, especially in a simulant of the soil of Mars. The pots were placed in water to keep the earth that contained the worms fresh.
Credit: Wieger Wamelink
In what could be an important milestone for future farmers on Mars, two healthy baby worms were recently born on simulated Martian soil. The births took place in an experiment that is helping scientists understand how human settlers might one day cultivate on the red planet.
Wieger Wamelink, a biologist at the University and Research Center of Wageningen in the Netherlands, performs plant growth experiments on a mixture of Mars soil simulators made by NASA – made from volcanic terrestrial rocks – and pig manure , to which added live adult worms. University officials said in a statement that infant worms are the first descendants of adult worms that are born in a simulant of the soil of Mars.
Mars is not a habitable natural environment for life as we know it, so if humans want to live there in the long term, Red Planet settlers should establish models of closed ecosystems. (These are essentially large terrariums where factors such as temperature and atmospheric humidity can be controlled.) According to the statement, those ecosystems will ideally utilize available disposal materials, including human excreta and dead organic matter. That's where the worms come in.
Worms begin the decomposition of organic matter, which is continued by bacteria. That leads to the release in the soil of vital nutrients from plants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potbadium, according to the declaration of the University of Wageningen and Research.
The researchers also found that the holes that Earthworms dig in the soil, aerate the mixture and improve the structure of the soil, making it easier for water to penetrate the soil and feed the plants.
The appearance of the worms seems to indicate that, at least in the short term, the worms thrive. in these closed ecosystems.
The purpose of the experiment is to discover how well the worms break down old waste to produce food for bacteria and plants in the soil simulant mixture and pig mud (or manure). Several flowering plants were allowed to germinate in several pots of this mixture, and then adult worms were added.
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to continue the experiments with these resistant worms. "Worms for Mars" has already raised more than half of its € 10K funding target, and with the help of the public, Wageningen University and Research hopes to continue testing different crops along with their tracking badistants. There is a possibility that sharp edges on a non-terrestrial floor could damage the entrails of the creatures, the researchers said in another statement.
When worms eat organic matter, they also eat the soil. As there is not much wear and tear on the Martian terrain, the sharp edges on its soil do not wear out (as they do on Earth) and can cause damage to the worms, according to the statement. The presence of heavy metals in Martian soil could also be a long-term problem for worms, which would require longer experiments to properly address it, the researchers said.