Communications Biology                          volume  5, Article number: 382  (2022 )             Cite this article

Plants grown in Apollo lunar regolith present stress-associated transcriptomes that inform prospects for lunar exploration

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2022-05-12 19:00:06

Communications Biology volume  5, Article number: 382 (2022 ) Cite this article

The extent to which plants can enhance human life support on other worlds depends on the ability of plants to thrive in extraterrestrial environments using in-situ resources. Using samples from Apollo 11, 12, and 17, we show that the terrestrial plant Arabidopsis thaliana germinates and grows in diverse lunar regoliths. However, our results show that growth is challenging; the lunar regolith plants were slow to develop and many showed severe stress morphologies. Moreover, all plants grown in lunar soils differentially expressed genes indicating ionic stresses, similar to plant reactions to salt, metal and reactive oxygen species. Therefore, although in situ lunar regoliths can be useful for plant production in lunar habitats, they are not benign substrates. The interaction between plants and lunar regolith will need to be further elucidated, and likely mitigated, to best enable efficient use of lunar regolith for life support within lunar stations.

The return of humans to the Moon during the NASA Artemis program1 has elevated scientific interest in the lunar environment and its impact on terrestrial biology2,3. Since the return to the Moon is envisioned as a dedicated, longer-term commitment to lunar exploration, questions of the lunar environmental impact on biology and biological systems have become a significant part of the lunar exploration agenda. Plants have long been envisioned as part of lunar habitats4,5,6,7,8 and exploration environments9,10. However, until the current study, the interactions between lunar materials and terrestrial biology were unaddressed in the era of modern molecular biology, and there had yet to be any experiments where plants were actually grown in the true lunar regolith. Understanding the impact of sustained exposure of terrestrial biology to lunar regolith, and determining the efficacy of lunar regolith as a viable in situ resource, is important to the concept of returning to the Moon for long durations. Therefore, we used plant growth and gene expression (e.g., 11,12,13) to both tests the fundamental impact of lunar regolith on terrestrial biology, and provide an initial evaluation of regolith as a matrix for plant growth systems in lunar exploration habitats.

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