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.