During the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions, NASA was able to collect lunar regolith, the upper loose layer of rock on the satellite’s surface. Now scientists from the University of Florida have been able to grow plants in it. The achievements have already been called “a milestone in the study of the moon and space.”

“In a new paper published in the journal ‘Communications Biology,’ University of Florida researchers showed that plants can successfully sprout and grow in lunar soil. Their study also investigated how plants respond biologically to the moon’s soil, also known as lunar regolith, which is radically different from soil found on Earth,” says the statement.

The experiment was difficult from the beginning. Researchers have asked NASA for soil three times in 11 years. As a result, they received 12 grams – just a few teaspoons – a month’s breed. They were then able to fill several thimble-sized holes in plastic plates commonly used to culture cells.

Plants really grew in tiny “pots” with only the addition of water and essential nutrients and under the influence of sunlight. However, researchers note that this was not easy for plants. Some of them were smaller and grew more slowly, and also differed more in size – in contrast to the same plants in the soil.

“Our results show that growth is challenging; the lunar regolith plants were slow to develop and many showed severe stress morphologies. Moreover, all plants grown in lunar soils differentially expressed genes indicating ionic stresses, similar to plant reactions to salt, metal and reactive oxygen species,” the researchers said.