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Oct. 3, 2018
What would we eat if we were to colonize Mars or the Moon one day? Scientists from the University of Zurich and the University of Lucerne are trying to answer this question.
An artist concept depicts a greenhouse on the surface of Mars
The moon is a celestial star very sad. It is composed of a thick layer of lunar dust, called lunar regolith in scientific jargon. There are few nutrients found in the soil. A team of Swiss researchers nevertheless wanted to know if it was possible to grow plants there, reports Friday "20 Minuten".
The group of scientists, led by Lorenzo Borghi from the University of Zurich and Marcel Egli from the University of Lucerne, wondered if it was possible to grow potatoes there. And if that were to be the case, how to go about it? "In order to grow tomatoes or potatoes on the moon, we need to promote the formation of mycorrhizae," says Borghi. The term mycorrhiza is used to refer to the symbiotic association between a plant and a mushroom.
It's gravity that's a problem
This symbiosis serves both the plant and the mushroom, says the researcher: "Some parts of the mushroom supply the roots of the plant in water, phosphates, nitrogen and trace elements from the soil. On the other hand, mushrooms take advantage of the sugars and fats produced by the plant. "
Swiss potato on the Moon, a small step for a potato, a giant step for space nutrition!
What is presently problematic is not only the soil poor in nutrients of the moon, but also the lower gravity which reigns there. That's why the researchers did a test with petunias and mycorrhizal fungi, in an environment simulating weightlessness (microgravity). Experience has shown that microgravity does have an impact on mycorrhizal formation. Fungi have not managed to "grab" enough of the plant's roots. Result: the symbiosis is weakened.
Mycorrhizae fungi: The plant's secondary root system
The solution to this problem could however be called strigolactone, a plant hormone. The researchers have indeed treated the plants with this hormone ... with success! The operation promoted the formation of mycorrhizae. "These results are a promising foundation, which suggests that we can someday grow plants in space."
University of Zurich: https://www.uzh.ch/en.html
University of Lucerne: https://www.unilu.ch/en/
Images, Animation, Text, Credits: GWA/NASA/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.
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