London, April 17 : Scientists with the European Space Agency (ESA) have shown that plants and flowers can be grown on the Moon by demonstrating that marigolds can grow in crushed rock very much like the lunar surface, with no need for plant food.
According to a report by BBC News, the new research was presented at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) meeting in Vienna.
"We would bring a system of water circulation and recovery, which is also the type of system that in any case you want to develop when you are going to manufacture a primitive sort of life support system," said Bernard Foing, a senior scientist with the European Space Research and Technology Centre (Estec) in the Netherlands.
"So it is also a kind of 'technological breadboard' for maintaining a simple life form in an extreme environment," he added.
The new step, taken in the experiments reported at the EGU, is to remove the need for bringing nutrients and soil from Earth.
A team led by Natasha Kozyrovska and Iryna Zaetz from the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev planted marigolds in crushed anorthosite, a type of rock found on Earth, which is very similar to much of the lunar surface.
In neat anorthosite, the plants fared very badly. But adding different types of bacteria made them thrive; the bacteria appeared to draw elements from the rock that the plants needed, such as potassium.
Dr Foing, who presented the study at the EGU meeting, said there was no reason in principle why the same idea could not bear fruit on the Moon itself. Tools could crush lunar rock and add bacteria and seeds.
"But, scientists could look to go further, by selecting plants or bacteria that are especially well adapted to lunar conditions, or even by genetically engineering new strains," he added.
According to Foing, growing plants on the Moon would be a useful as a tool to learn how life adapts to lunar conditions, and as a practical aid to establishing manned bases.