Earthworms can reproduce in Mars-like soil

Overview of the pots with rucola and Mars soil simulant and Earth control. Image credits Wieger Wamelink

Overview of the pots with rucola and Mars soil simulant and Earth control. Image credits Wieger Wamelink

Worms and pig slurry have been added to the simulant.

As the experiment progressed, the team was surprised to find two tiny earthworm offspring in the pots, making it the first reproduction witnessed in a Martian environment simulation.

On Mars, soil samples will be fertilized using human waste. Two youth earthworms are the first creatures to be born in Mars-like soil conditions. The discovery was made when biologist Wieger Wamelink found a pair of young worms in a simulated Mars soil sample from NASA; only adult worms had been placed in the soil, indicating they had successfully reproduced in the sample. The researchers said they were able to grow over a dozen crops in the Mars soil simulant. The manure contributed to the growth of the plants just like in a regular soil, and the worms did their job just like they should have. Dr Wieger Wamelink, lead author of the study, found the worms in a Mars soil simulant that he obtained from Nasa. The tiny bits of organic matter they excrete is broken down further by bacteria in the soil, supplying the dirt with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, which boosts plant health. Feeding a new colony of humans on Mars requires a closed agricultural ecosystem, and worms will play an important role in this.

"We will continue with the worms-providing funding-to upscale and to keep them for longer periods to see if they can continue to do their job-digging their burrows, chewing organic matter and mixing it with the soil", Wamelink says.

This experiment is a part of the crowdfunding Food for Mars and Moon project, which has been attempting to cultivate crops on planets like Moon and Mars since 2013.

Fresh food is something that human settlers hoping to inhabit any planet would require in the long-term, and having just soil, water and nutrients in the form of human excrement might not be enough to establish a sustainable agricultural system, notes a report by ZME Science.

Researchers around the world have worked on solving the problem, doing everything from simulated growth studies to developing concepts for sophisticated greenhouses.

'However crops such as green beans, peas, radish, tomato, potato, rocket, carrot and garden cress all seem possible.

'After passing these tests we organised a dinner based on the harvested crops for the people that supported our research via the crowdfunding campaign'.

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