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Earthworms Thrive in a Simulated Mars Soil

November 30, 2017
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Earthworms Thrive in a Simulated Mars Soil

A Dutch biologist, Wieger Wamelink, experimented with worms in a simulated Mars soil. He found two baby earthworms twisting around the soil.

Because we currently don’t have real soil from the red planet, Mr. Wamelink obtained the simulant soil from NASA. The American space agency fetched that dirt from a volcano in Hawaii and the Mojave desert. Then sterilized it to copy the lifeless Martian environment.

The Dutch biologist started this experiment adding adult worms. Wamelink and his research team didn’t expect they will survive. However, not only they survived, but they also reproduced.

“That was way beyond what we expected,” says Wamelink.

“The positive effect of adding manure was not unexpected”, added Wamelink, “but we were surprised that it makes Mars soil simulant outperform Earth silver sand”.

It would be extremely pleasing to discover that worms can survive the real soil of the red planet.

Worms play a crucial role in a healthy soil. Why? Because they eat dead plants and excrete productive soil. The poo contains organic ingredients and when bacteria crumbles it further, it releases nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for use by the plants.

However, on Earth, it is impossible to find a Martian soil replica. Different from Earth, the red planet’s soil is uniform. So, the only way to find out what happens to worms in the “red dust” is to test them in a soil taken straight out of the Martian ground.

Scientists really hope that one day they can use common earthworms to help humans grow crops on the red planet.

Wamelink also wants to investigate the type of bacteria and fungi most adaptive to the red planet’s currently harsh soil. But even if they figure it out, there’s still another difficulty: how to pollinate the plants. So far, researchers have been doing it by hand with a tiny brush – a very difficult task for Mars.

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Thumbnail image: The pots were put in water to keep the soil, containing the earthworms, cool. They enjoy 15 degrees, while the plants prefer 20 degrees. Credit: Wieger Wamelink

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