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This Experiment With Worms Could Be a Major Breakthrough for Putting Humans on Mars

November 28, 2017, 7:36 PM UTC

Scientists say they have successfully bred worms in a soil that simulates conditions on Mars — a promising step toward creating a sustainable agricultural system on the red planet, and one that could potentially allow humans to survive there in the future.

The experiment, conducted by biologist Wieger Wamelink at Wageningen University & Research, aimed to determine if people could feed themselves by growing crops on Mars. Worms, which recycle dead organic matter into nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that can fertilize crops, are a crucial part of this process, according to Wamelink. Any agricultural system on Mars would have to be self-sufficient, meaning recycling would be vital, he says.

“Worms are very important for a healthy soil, not only on Earth but also in future indoor gardens on Mars or the moon,” Wamelink says.

It’s good news for humanity’s ambitions to colonize Mars. Among those with such ambitions is SpaceX CEO Elon Musk who recently announced plans to send unmanned cargo missions to the planet by 2022, and send humans there by 2024.

But Wamelink warned of a “major drawback” to the experiment: The experimental soil was not totally identical to the Martian variety. Wamelink told Newsweek the soil was missing the toxic chemical perchlorate, which is found on Mars.