Scientists have revealed they’ve made a huge breakthrough in an experiment simulating life on the planet Mars.
Researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands carried out the experiment in which two earthworms were born in simulated ‘Martian soil’.
Dr Wieger Wamelink, the lead author of the study, found the worms in a Mars soil simulant he had obtained from NASA.
Last year, The Guardian reported crops of four vegetables and cereals grown in the soil were deemed safe to eat by the Dutch scientists.
The radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes grown on dirt mixed on Earth to copy that found on Mars were found to contain ‘no dangerous levels’ of heavy metals, said the team.
Senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink said:
These remarkable results are very promising.
We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes, and I am very curious what they will taste like.
In a statement on AlphaGalileo, the researchers wrote:
Two young worms are the first offspring in a Mars soil experiment at Wageningen University & Research.
At the start he only added adult worms. The experiments are crucial in the study that aims to determine whether people can keep themselves alive at the red planet by growing their own crops on Mars soils.
To feed future humans on Mars a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem is a necessity. Worms will play a crucial role in this system as they break down and recycle dead organic matter.
Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active. However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant.
The positive effect of adding manure was not unexpected, but we were surprised that it makes Mars soil simulant outperform Earth silver sand.
We added organic matter from earlier experiments to both sands. We added the manure to a sample of the pots and then, after germination of the rucola, we added the worms. We therefore ended up with pots with all possible combinations with the exception of organic matter which was added to all of the pots.
The researchers said worms are ‘very important’ for a healthy soil, not only here on Earth but also in future indoor gardens on Mars and even on the moon.
Worms thrive on dead organic matter such as old plant remains, which they eat, chew and mix with soil before they excrete it.
Scientists on the project said:
This poop still contains organic matter that is broken down further by bacteria, thus releasing nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for use by the plants.
By digging burrows the worms also aerate and improve the structure of the soil, making watering the plants more effective.
The latter proved to be very important in earlier experiments where water would not easily penetrate the soil.
Wamelink confirmed: ‘The application of worms will solve this problem.’