Farming on Mars Gets Boost With First Earthworms Born in "Mars" Soil

Submitted by: fancylad 9 months ago in Science


Living on Mars has become a little more realistic after a team was able to produce two healthy earthworms in simulated Martian soil, Space.com reported Monday. A biology lab led by Wieger Weamelink in the Netherlands’ Wageningen University and Research Centre made the birth announcement last week has been attempting to grow plants in the mock Martian soil for a few years; Weamelink decided to throw in a couple adult earthworms to see if they reproduced—and they did, for the first time ever. 

The soil is a hybrid of NASA-produced soil “simulants” that are composed mostly of volcanic terrestrial rocks along with a dash of pig manure. The success of earthworm births is an important milestone for potential Martian exploration, as farming will be of utmost importance for survival. Earthworms are key to the agricultural process, as they (along with bacteria) break organic material down and release them into the soil, which then gets processed as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium for plants to absorb and thrive. 

And earthworms’ natural tunneling behavior helps aerate soil, allowing for better absorption. The lab has launched a crowdfunding initiative, Worms for Mars, to continue researching earthworm birth and livelihoods on Martian soil.
There are 25 comments:
Male 1,591
Any farming on Mars will be inside.  either underground under electric lights, or above ground in domes with supplemental electric light.  Probably underground.  Regardless, if you're depending on these crops for oxygen, initial water purification, and food, then you don't mess about with "maybe" martian sand working.  You bring your own soil media.  Living on Mars will require 10's of thousands of tonnes of stuff to survive.  Spending 100 tonnes on soil media just makes sense.

Folks haven't even considered water yet.  A typical water use is about 350 Litres per capita per day.  That's 10 US gallons (give or take).  While that isn't survival rates, it is "normal" living.  If we're on Mars permanently, why not live as close to normal as possible ?  If you've got 1000 people on Mars, you need to provide 350 metric tons of fresh, potable water every day.  This does not include water for crops or for industrial uses.
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Male 44,344
Mars lacks Earths magnetic field. The solar radiation would kill the worms
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Male 3
Gerry1of1 or make them superhero worms

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Male 1,820
codeheart67  or make the worms produce THE SPICE!
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Male 993
Okay, this is kinda stupid...  Simulated Martian soil is made of volcanic rocks from Earth and Pig Poop...  and the put the worms in it--on Earth.  So we take things that exist only on Earth, keep it in Earth's environment, and this simulates Mars?
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Male 12,194
simulated.. sure.  They'll probably die if we put them there.
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Male 8,535
Interesting. A couple random thoughts:

1. If I remember correctly, the New World didn't have earthworms prior to the arrival of European settlers. Earthworms had gone extinct in North America during the Ice Age and were introduced when settlers brought over crops to plant, which had earthworms hiding in the soil. Needless to say, now earthworms are everywhere on the continent, and they've changed the environment in ways both good and bad.

2. I'm curious about how the worms will handle the perchlorates that have been discovered in Martian soil. Perchlorates can be toxic to humans, although some microbes coexist happily with them. Without including perchlorates in this simulated Martian soil, the test seems very incomplete.
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Male 5,109
squrlz4ever I don't believe there were bees here either.
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Male 8,535
trimble True--no honeybees either.
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Male 36
squrlz4ever I'd never heard that, so I looked it up. You're partially right, I think. There WERE 2 native earthworms. But they did not live in the great lakes region. Now there are many earthworms there, some of which must have been introduced by settlers. Fascinating.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/earthworm-native-united-states-more-questions-from-readers-180958094/ 
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Male 8,535
phacter Thanks for the info. I was kind of hazy on it, so I'm glad you looked into it further and corrected me. I found another article from Smithsonian that sums it up this way: "Today, virtually all earthworms north of Pennsylvania are non-native." I suppose this is because the glaciers didn't scour the soil as vigorously at the lower latitudes.
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Male 1,591
squrlz4ever They didn't get much further south at all.
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Male 8,535
punko Right you are, Punko; thanks. For my own edification, I looked for some maps of the extent of the glaciers and found the one below.

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Male 44,344
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Male 1,591
humpf. Nice start, I guess, but until they use actual martian soils, these tests don't count for much
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Male 2,193
They should have asked Matt Damon for a poop sample to use rather than pig manure.
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