If you’ve ever been gifted a potted plant and struggled to keep it alive, spare a thought for Associate Professor Caitlin Byrt.
Not content with the challenging conditions for crop production here on Earth, she is now lending her expertise to an ambitious space mission to grow plants on the moon.
“We’re looking at how we can adapt crops so that they can be productive in challenging environments,” says Associate Professor Byrt.
Launching in 2025, Lunaria One's first mission will investigate if plants can not only tolerate but thrive on the lunar surface.
“This is one of the first key steps to engineer new solutions in the future, where you’re able to actually propagate plants whilst off on space travel.”
The types of plants sent to the moon in a shoebox-sized compartment will be carefully selected based on how quickly they germinate and their tolerance to extreme temperature swings experienced in space.
Associate Professor Byrt, who is a science advisor for Lunaria One and an ARC Future Fellow at the ANU Research School of Biology, says a diversity of species are being considered, including types of plants called resurrection species.
“These plants are naturally adapted to desert environments, where they can dry down to sometimes only ten percent of their normal water content, go into a stasis type mode, and then upon rewatering, come back to life and regrow.”
The project is an early step toward growing plants for food, medicine and oxygen production, which are all crucial to establishing human life on the moon.
“When we look up at the moon at night, I’m sure it’s mind-boggling to imagine that there may be plants on there in the future,” says Associate Professor Byrt.
The researchers hope the lessons learned from this mission will help unlock new methods to boost sustainable food production on Earth and bolster food security in the face of climate-driven weather disasters.
The Lunaria One mission is an international collaboration between several institutions, including Queensland University of Technology (QUT), RMIT University, ANU and Ben Gurion University in Israel, as well as industry bodies.
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