Scientists managed to use Mars soil simulant to grow and reproduce worms for the first time. With that happening, the likelihood of farming on the red planet is closer to becoming a reality than a dream. Earthworms are of critical importance to healthy soil on our planet. Now that they have managed to reproduce them in the simulated Mars soil successfully, it makes it more possible to colonize the red planet and use Mars’ soil to grow plants.
Wieger Wamelink from the Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands was looking at the critters which were used to grow arugula in the Mars’ soil sample. The soil was originally created by NASA and resembles a type of sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem, which would be sufficient to support life on Mars. The soil samples on Mars will be fertilized with human waste. However, in this particular experiment, scientists used pig slurry for safety reasons. Wamelink, however, added the manure to the soil containing adult earthworms for the quality of the soil to be enhanced.
“For a sustainable agricultural ecosystem on Mars, indoors and under earth like air and pressure, worms are essential. Nutrients in the dead plants must be brought back to the soil and worms help to do su,” Wamelink told Newsweek. “That the worms would thrive was not obvious, since there are heavy metals present in the soil and the sand grains can quite sharp.”
The worms eat and excrete dead organic materials as they dig through soil. This digging can change soil structure, which enhances the watering of plants.
“This is an important part of the agricultural ecosystem we want to build on Mars that works,” Wamelink said.
Wamelink notes that although the Mars soil simulant samples that were used in the experiment are supposed to mimic Martian soil, it is not completely identical. He explained that the “major drawback” of the experiment is the lack of perchlorate, which is a toxic chemical found on Mars. Also, the scientists can’t replicate the lower gravity found on Mars in laboratory conditions.
“We will continue with the worms – providing funding – to upscale and 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 told Newsweek.
The experiment regarding worms being born in NASA’s Mars soil simulant is a part of the crowdfunded Food For Mars and Moon project. The project includes attempting to create crops in Mars-like and moon-like soil since 2013. The team managed to harvest crops for the first time in 2015. However, now scientists need to answer the question as to whether the food they harvested is even safe to eat or not.