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Cambridge University Science Magazine
If, like me, you watched all of Netflix during the pandemic, you might remember a scene from Space Force where General Naird (Steve Carell) volunteers for a Lunar Habitat experiment. The astronauts-to-be are growing potatoes under conditions mimicking those on the moon and much to General Naird’s mid-meal disgust, this involves homemade fertiliser. Yes, I mean human faeces.

Earlier this year, scientists successfully grew plants in moon dirt for the first time (with no faecal matter involved). They used dirt collected from the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions and grew seedlings up until they were 20 days old. On day 6, there were no notable differences between moon-dirt seedlings and the non- moon-dirt controls. On day 20 however, the moon-dirt seedlings looked stunted and strangely similar to that houseplant you asked your friend to keep an eye on over the break. When the researchers sequenced the seedlings’ gene transcripts they found increased expression of genes linked to high levels of stress.

It seems unlikely that we’ll be growing potatoes on the moon just yet, but it is hard to hear about this work without broader questions creeping to mind: What landscapes are available for agriculture and anthropogenic change? Which plants do we grow, and for whom? These questions can be challenging when considering the complexity of life on earth, let alone across the atmosphere into the beyond.

Article by Barbara Neto-Bradley. Artwork by Sarah Ma.