Earthworms can reproduce in the soil simulator of Mars


Young worm, born in the simulant of the soil of Mars. Credit: Wieger Wamelink, WUR

Two young worms are the first descendants in a Mars soil experiment at Wageningen University & Research. The biologist Wieger Wamelink found them in a ground simulator of Mars that he obtained from NASA. At first I only added adult worms. The experiments are crucial in the study that aims to determine whether people can stay alive on the red planet by growing their own crops in the soils of Mars.

To feed the humans of the future on Mars, a closed and sustainable agricultural ecosystem is a must. Worms will play a crucial role in this system as they decompose and recycle dead organic matter. The defecation and pee of the Martian (human) must also be used to fertilize the soil, but for practical and safety reasons we are currently using pig grout. Since then we have been observing the growth of arugula (rocket) in the simulant of Mars soil provided by NASA to which worms and grout have been added. "Clearly, the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active, but the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant." said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research.

"The positive effect of adding manure was not unexpected," Wamelink added, "but we were surprised that it causes the Mars soil simulator to overtake the silver sand on Earth." We add organic matter from previous experiments to both arenas. We add the manure to a sample of the pots and then, after the germination of the rucola, we add the worms. Therefore, we finished with pots with all possible combinations with the exception of the organic matter that was added to all the pots.

Description of the pots with arugula and simulant of the soil of Mars and control of the Earth. The two in front are test planters with front rucola and behind direct flowering s. The pots stand in a container of water to cool the soil, since worms like it at 15 degrees centigrade, but plants prefer 20 degrees centigrade. Credit: Wieger Wamelink

Earthworms are very important for healthy soil, not only on Earth but also in future indoor gardens on Mars or the moon. They thrive on dead organic matter, like the remains of old plants, which eat, chew and mix with soil before excreting it. This poop still contains organic matter that is further broken down by bacteria, releasing nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potbadium for the use of plants. When digging burrows, earthworms also aerate and improve soil structure, making the watering of plants more effective. The latter proved to be very important in previous experiments where water would not easily penetrate the soil. Wamelink confirmed that "the application of worms will solve this problem".

To feed future humans living on Mars or on the Moon, the Food for Mars and Moon project aims to establish a sustainable agricultural system. presence of soils and water (in the form of ice) on both Mars and the Moon, and for Earth-based research we are using soil simulants delivered by NASA. The simulants come from a volcano in Hawaii (Mars) and a desert in Arizona (Luna). The experiments started in 2013. Today we can grow more than a dozen crops, the only species that has resisted our efforts so far is spinach. However, crops such as green beans, peas, radishes, tomatoes, potatoes, rucola, carrots and cress seem possible. Heavy metal cultures and also alkaloids were badyzed to verify their safety for human consumption. After pbading these tests we organized a dinner based on harvested crops for the people who supported our research through the paign crowdfunding camera

Explore more:
First tomatoes and peas harvested simulating Mars and lunar earth

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Wageningen University

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