NASA is growing earthworms in Martian soil?

Image result for earthworm jim

Well, sort of…

Wieger Wamelink, a biologist based at Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands, observed the critters in a soil sample being used to grow arugula. This soil, developed by NASA, mimics the kind of sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem necessary to support human life on Mars.

On Mars, soil samples will be fertilized using human waste (think, poo potatoes). In this experiment, pig slurry was used for practical and safety reasons. Wamelink added the manure to the soil with adult earthworms in order to improve soil quality.

“For a sustainable agricultural ecosystem on Mars, indoors and under earth like air and pressure, worms are essential. Nutrients in the dead plants must be brought back to the soil and worms help to do so,” Wamelink tells Newsweek. “That the worms would thrive was not obvious, since there are heavy metals present in the soil and the sand grains can quite sharp.” Worms dig through soil, eating and excreting dead organic matter. Their burrowing habits can change soil structure, improving the watering of plants. “This is an important part of the agricultural ecosystem we want to build on Mars that works.”

However, the soil samples used in the experiment are not identical to Martian soil. A major drawback of the research, he explains, is the absence of perchlorate—a toxic chemical compound found on Mars. In addition, the lower gravity found on Mars cannot be replicated in laboratory conditions.

This experiment is part of the crowdfunded Food for Mars and Moon project, which has been attempting to cultivate crops in Mars-like and moon-like soil since 2013. Successfully harvesting crops for the first time in 2015, the team now needs to answer the question: is this food safe to eat?