29 September (WNN) — If astronauts are to establish a base and spend extended time on Mars, they will need to be able to synthesize water and grow their own food.
Growing conditions on the Red Planet are vastly different, so scientists on Earth are conducting experiments to understand how plants would behave in the regolith of Mars.
New research published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that nitrogen-fixing bacteria may help crops grow more efficiently in Martian soils.
Martian soil lacks many nitrogen-containing molecules that are essential for plant growth.
But when scientists introduced nitrogen-fixing bacteria to clover plants and planted them in man-made Mars-like soil, the plants outgrew the plants without the symbiotic bacteria.
The researchers found that the inoculated plants had 75% more root and shoot growth than the control plants. When the scientists tested the soil, they determined that there were similarly depressed concentrations of NH4, which suggests that the microbes helped the clover plants absorb the rare nutrient more efficiently.
Nitrogen deficiency isn’t the only problem with Mars’ dense soil. Martian regolith is also toxic, containing high concentrations of chlorinated perchlorate compounds.
The authors of the new study suggest that different combinations of symbiotic bacteria may help plants avoid harmful molecules.
“This study shows that nodule-forming bacteria synorhizobium meliloti has been shown to nodulate in the regolith of Mars, significantly enhance the growth of clover, melilotus officinalis, in a greenhouse assay,” the researchers wrote.
“This work increases our understanding of how plant and microbe interactions will aid efforts to terraform regolith on Mars,” he wrote.