[meteorite-list] New Zealand Scientist Grow Vegetables In Martian Soil

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:37:36 2004
Message-ID: <200012201709.JAA19075_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Kiwi scientists grow vegetables in Martian soil
The Age (Australia)
Source: NZPA

WELLINGTON, Dec 20: American scientists may not be able to take rocks from
Mars until at least 2008, but New Zealand researchers have already produced
the first vegetable plants grown in Martian soil.

Lincoln University scientists have grown potato and asparagus plants in
extracts from the Martian meteorite Dar al Gani, found in the Sahara Desert
in 1998.

They also tried composite soils manufactured to the same chemical mix as
Mars dirt.

The best results came from carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, such as the
Murchison Meteorite which fell in Australia in 1969.

Carbonaceous chondrite is a rare class of ancient meteorite that includes
wateraltered minerals and organic compounds that contain carbon.

>From tissue cultures, the plants were grown to several millimetres, with
size and color varying with the soil source.

Soil fertility indicators showed the Murchison Meteorite material was
comparable to Earth's soil.

All the meteorites showed nutrient effects and the Mars meteorite and
composites provided minerals, especially phosphate.

The work was done by research professor of chemistry Michael Mautner and
plant physiologist Professor Tony Conner, both of the Lincoln University
soil, plant and ecological sciences division, and David Deamer, a
biophysicist at the University of California, United States.

The research, supported by the Marsden Fund, the New Zealand government
grants for "cutting edge" research, was last year allocated $328,000 to look
into the makeup of Martian soils.

The scientists tested the biology and fertility of extraterrestrial soils in
relation to the origins of life, and as future space exploration resources.

"If we build colonies in space, we will have to grow plants for food, so
obviously we need to know the soil can support that," Dr Mautner said.

"The future is out there in space, so it's exciting. Spacebased soils could
potentially support future human expansion in the solar system. I wouldn't
say very soon, but in a few centuries."

Scientists might eventually be able to plant some forms of life throughout
the galaxy, seeding distant planets to test if they could support life.

The Lincoln University experiments have shown that materials from
interplanetary dust, meteorites and comets could have helped trigger life on

Materials extracted from the Murchison meteorite were found to form sacs
similar to cell membranes. Such membranes, and rich solutions in meteorite
pores, could have assisted the formation of the first microbes.

The scientists have theorised that once present, the meteorite solutions
could then have provided the first microorganisms with nutrients until they
adapted to the host planet.

Similar materials may support the growth of microorganisms in asteroids and
comets, if transported there by natural processes or by directed panspermia.

Panspermia is a scientific theory that life has been seeded through the
universe, partly based on the capacity for comets made of waterice, to carry
organic compounds, and even whole cells such as bacterial life across
galaxies and protect it from radiation damage along the way.
Received on Wed 20 Dec 2000 12:09:19 PM PST

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