Two healthy baby worms were born in simulated Martian soil, providing scientists with insight regarding how future farming might be conducted on the Red Planet.
Wieger Wamelink, a biologist at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, is currently conducting plant growth experiments on NASA-simulated Martian soil, made from volcanic rocks and pig manure, Space.com reports. Wamelink then added live worms for the experiment.
These newborn worms are the first offspring of adult worms to have come out of a Mars soil simulant, university officials said.
Mars has a hostile environment, so any humans who might have to settle on it will have to come up with good ecosystem models – terrariums where things like temperature and moisture can be controlled. These ecosystems will ideally make use of organic waste materials, which is where the worms come in.
The worms break down organic waste matter, which bacteria carries on. This leads to the release of nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus into the soil. The holes that worms dig in the soil also aerate it and improve structure, making it more efficient for water to penetrate the earth and sustain the plants.
The baby worms suggest that the organisms can thrive in these kinds of closed ecosystems, at least for a short time. Several flowering plants were placed in the ecosystem, and allowed to germinate in pots containing the Martian soil simulant. Adult worms were added in.
A crowdfunding campaign has started to allow further experiments on these worms. Named “Worms for Mars,” the campaign has reached over half of the goal of EU10,000. Wageningen University and Research hopes that with the public’s assistance, they will be able to keep testing various crops, along with worms.
Some challenges are the sharp edges found in the foreign soil that could damage the worms’ stomachs, or the presence of heavy metals in actual Martian soil that could also be a problem, and would require long-term research.