Worms on Mars!


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Scientists growing plants on Earth using a simulated Martian soil have found that earthworms like it.

These slimy invertebrates play a key role in making Earth soil healthy by digesting dead organic matter and excreting a potent fertilizer that helps release nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Their constant burrowing also helps lighten up the soil, allowing air and water to seep through better.

That’s an important improvement for the simulated Mars soil, which water struggled to soak through in previous tests. Altogether, the tests showed that the combination of worms and pig slurry helped the plants grow in Martin soil, and the worms not only thrived but reproduced. “Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active,” says Wamelink. “However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant.”

Obviously, we do not know yet how the worms would respond to the lower Martian gravity, but it sure would be a significant experiment to see them reproduce there.

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15 comments

  • Cotour

    Is this what we will ultimately bring to Mars? Worms?

    https://youtu.be/Bj7R_2WWdKs

    (Before Wayne can post it)

  • Cotour: This clip only confirms my original opinion of the movie Dune. It was worse than bad. The acting in just this short clip is so badly directed it makes me cringe.

  • Cotour

    True, but acting aside the worm theme on the fictional Dune and its real world planetary similarity to Mars and this scientific observation related to worms is very prescient, no? At least interesting, its the first thing that popped into my head.

    PS: Thank you for dialing down the security requirements on CAPTCHA, now I do not feel as though I am trying to get into the Pentagon to post something.

  • wayne

    Cotour–
    Good one!

    Personally, I am highly dubious in-general of these “simulations,” whaddabout the “simulated gravity” in all this? Not a worm-person, but I’d speculate actual gravity, or fractions thereof, play a bit of a role in worm-mobility.

    (I’m not really a Dune guy myself, [nor Harry Potter, nor Lord of the Rings,] although I did watch the 1984 movie version.)

  • BSJ

    Who here knew that Earthworms are a non-native species in North America? http://www.allaboutwildlife.com/invasive-species/invasive-eartworms-in-american-soil/4545

    Imagine the long lasting giant drifts of leaves that would have filled the forest each autumn, before the introduction of the worms.

    Honey Bees and Apples are also on the list of “alien” invaders…

  • pzatchok

    I for one knew nightcrawlers as we call them are not native to North America. We did have other smaller types of worms.

    One of my questions about the Mars simulant is it as “sharp” as the Mars soil is? And exactly how sharp is the Martian soil?
    What I mean is that as rock is struck together and breaks it leaves very sharp edges. Especially as it gets down to sand size. This sharp sand tends to irritate worms and keeps them from moving through it as easily.

    Its easy to dull the sand down a bit by just rolling it around in a small cement mixer for a few hours. This is why beach sand is “soft” and round, the waves do the work.

  • wayne

    BSJ-
    I was not aware of this earthworm thing.

    “our friend, the earthworm”
    https://youtu.be/5P8Z5JOwfqM
    4:06

  • wayne

    “Frank Burns Eats Worms”
    https://youtu.be/FevVfmog4JA

  • ken anthony

    Garbage => worms/crickets => chickens => omelettes.

    Who needs trains when you can ride spice worms?

  • wodun

    A: Dune is awesome and ya’ll are crazy.

    B: Simulant isn’t good enough.

    C: It would be nice to see how fungus would do on Mars. It could be that terraforming might not even need atmospheric changes, just add lifeforms from Earth that have been here for almost ever.

  • Cotour

    Re: C.

    I have often thought about what plant or fungus life we might be able to introduce to Mars to “Terraform” it, but it always comes around to the fact that the planet has no or little magnetic field shielding it and so it is bombarded by much too much radiation and there is little atmosphere. No magnetic field of consequence no atmosphere for plant life to flourish. Conclusion: Mars is a spent female dog who’s time and ability to support life, plant or otherwise seems to have passed?

    So these terraforming activities it appears will have to be done exclusively within enclosures.

  • Laurie

    Did the ‘simulated Mars soil’ consider factors such as those described in the following:

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/toxic-compounds-may-sterilize-martian-soil/

  • wayne

    Laurie-
    Good stuff.
    (“of course not,” if they killed the worms on the first day, everyone would be out of their cushy state-sponsored jobs.)

    I tracked back a little deeper on these people; quite the progressive-operation, based in the Netherlands, and in full compliance & support of all European-union activities and regulations.

    Considering how freaked-out people get over genetically modified organisms and glyphosate here on Earth, I want to know exactly which ultra-low calorie and nutrient-poor crops they intend to grow in martian dirt, using human waste.

    Very fanciful.
    Especially considering we are already in WW-3, our US debt is 20 trillion and we have 120 trillion in unfunded liabilities that aren’t going away.

    tangentially– I find it hilarious that people don’t want to live near nuclear power-plants, but a certain fraction of these exact same people, desperately want to die travelling to & living in, the Little house on the Martian Prairie.

  • Cotour

    The American Indians all described and had names for it.

    https://youtu.be/eyuWHF8EJ84

    And they have been here for many thousands of years. If it does not exist then what is everyone for thousands of years across cultures seeing and apparently interacting with? Im just asking questions here.

  • ken anthony

    Laurie,

    Perchlorates are not an issue to worms for a simple reason. They are not going to be released into the raw environment. All soil on mars is going to be mass processed before use. Perchlorates are easily neutralized with water. Iron is at toxic levels and will have to be reduced (resulting in a very cheap source of building materials.) Even heat is an issue. Not just worms but live soil will be an important import for mars (composting with mars dirt and biologic trash.)

    It’s a process that is relatively easy to scale up. It will be an art to have the right mix of worm species for various functions.

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