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Poster presented at the 2023 SWOSU Research and Scholarly Activity fair.

Pictured here are students Kade Flores, Stevie Langstraat, and Rachel Uhlig.

The NASA Artemis program has goals of humans back on the moon by 2030, undergraduate researchers from Southwestern Oklahoma State University participated in the Plant Mars Challenge hosted by the Institute of Competition Sciences to study how crops grow in non-Earth soils. These researchers are funded by the NASA-affiliated Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium. This team tested how microbial diversity affects overall crop yield. Five different crops—lettuce, carrots, radishes, spinach, and peas—were selected to be grown over a nine-week period with the biomass being measured. Mycorrhizal associations are known to increase surface area of root structures and are hypothesized to favor plant growth by increasing nutrient acquisition and limiting the concentration of pathogenic microbes, this team hypothesized that pots containing a higher microbial diversity would have more biomass than its counterpart. To test this hypothesis, sixteen bottom-wicking pots were used to test Mars-regolith soil versus Earth soil, high versus low microbial diversity, and three selected plants versus another three, with two trials of each treatment. Plant growth was detected in Mars-regolith soil but did not persist. Microbial activity was detected by fluorescein diacetate analysis and microbial load was determined by serial dilution plating using Potato Dextrose Agar (PDA), Sabouraud Dextrose Agar (SDA), and Tryptic Soy Agar (TSA). Earth soil was found to have significantly more microbial activity, suggesting that there was a higher rate of metabolism of microbes within the soil. The team found that there were no significant differences between the microbial load in the Mars-regolith pots and the Earth soil pots regardless of microbial diversity differences. The Mars-regolith pots became visibly waterlogged towards the end of the growth period, and this problem was addressed and troubleshooted by testing different watering methods. We found that time-limited bottom-watering methods worked best.


SWOSU Research, Research fair, Microbiology, Astrobiology, Astrobotany, Mars, Regolith