Scientists have successfully grown earthworms in a Mars soil simulant, an advance that points to the possibility of life and future human colonies on the red planet.
The two young worms are the first offspring in a Mars soil experiment at Wageningen University & Research Centre in The Netherlands.
The experiments are crucial in the study that aims to determine whether people can keep themselves alive on the red planet by growing their own crops on Mars soils.
"To feed future humans on Mars a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem is a necessity. Worms will play a crucial role in this system as they break down and recycle dead organic matter," researchers said.
Researchers observed the growth of rucola plants in Mars soil simulant provided by NASA, and added worms and pig slurry.
"Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active," said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research.
"However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant," said Wamelink.
Worms are very important for a healthy soil, not only on Earth but also in future indoor gardens on Mars or the Moon.
They thrive on dead organic matter such as old plant remains, which they eat, chew and mix with soil.
By digging burrows the worms also aerate and improve the structure of the soil, making watering the plants more effective.
The latter proved to be very important in earlier experiments where water would not easily penetrate the soil. The application of worms will solve this problem," Wamelink said.
However, further research would be required to understand the growth of such life forms in low gravity conditions.