Soil fertility interactions with Sinorhizobium-legume symbiosis in a simulated Martian regolith; effects on nitrogen content and plant health

PLoS One. 2021 Sep 29;16(9):e0257053. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257053. eCollection 2021.


Due to increasing population growth and declining arable land on Earth, astroagriculture will be vital to terraform Martian regolith for settlement. Nodulating plants and their N-fixing symbionts may play a role in increasing Martian soil fertility. On Earth, clover (Melilotus officinalis) forms a symbiotic relationship with the N-fixing bacteria Sinorhizobium meliloti; clover has been previously grown in simulated regolith yet without bacterial inoculation. In this study, we inoculated clover with S. meliloti grown in potting soil and regolith to test the hypothesis that plants grown in regolith can form the same symbiotic associations as in soils and to determine if greater plant biomass occurs in the presence of S. meliloti regardless of growth media. We also examined soil NH4 concentrations to evaluate soil augmentation properties of nodulating plants and symbionts. Greater biomass occurred in inoculated compared to uninoculated groups; the inoculated average biomass in potting mix and regolith (2.23 and 0.29 g, respectively) was greater than the uninoculated group (0.11 and 0.01 g, respectively). However, no significant differences existed in NH4 composition between potting mix and regolith simulant. Linear regression analysis results showed that: i) symbiotic plant-bacteria relationships differed between regolith and potting mix, with plant biomass positively correlated to regolith-bacteria interactions; and, ii) NH4 production was limited to plant uptake yet the relationships in regolith and potting mix were similar. It is promising that plant-legume symbiosis is a possibility for Martian soil colonization.

PMID:34587163 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0257053


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