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HBCU Showcase Webinar: Hacking Agriculture: Sustainable Methods for Offworld Crop Cultivation and Evaluation

What can we learn from plant physiology and evolution to enable fruitful agriculture on the Moon or Mars?

Successful crop production in extreme environments relies on understanding the plant’s physiology related to its evolutionary history. Several climatic changes have occurred since plants first emerged in the middle Cambrian to Early Ordovician interval, either caused by natural planetary cycles, the constant shifts that life would impose in the environment, or a combination of both.

Events like these seem distant, but they are essential to our understanding of how plants perceive and communicate with the environment and how we can potentially manipulate factors to achieve a sustainable form of production in in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) scenarios. One of the most notorious factors is the evolutionary dependence between plants and their microbiome. Mycorrhizal fungi or nitrogen-fixing symbiotic bacteria play essential roles in plant performance by improving mineral nutrition. There is clear evidence that plants are directly responsible for shaping their microbiome composition by root exudates and that bacteria have developed adaptations to thrive in the rhizospheric niche over millennia of co-evolution.

Over the past three years, Winston-Salem State University’s Astrobotany Lab, in association with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, has been trying to understand such interactions and manipulate them to improve crop production in highly stressful environments, such as the Moon and Mars. This webinar offered an overview of the science behind recent discoveries and discussed the potential impact of this technology on Earth-based systems.

Originally aired,
Wednesday, March 22, 2023


  • Rafael Loureiro, Winston-Salem State University