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China grows plants on moon for the first time ever

New photo shows cotton seeds sprouting inside sealed container.
Image: Cotton seed sprout Chang'e-4 moon probe
A cotton seed brought to the moon aboard China's Chang'e 4 mission can be seen sprouting in a biological experiment on the far side of the moon.Chongqing University / AFP - Getty Images
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Seeds carried by China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander have sprouted, marking the first instance of biological matter growing on the moon.

China's Chang'e 4 lunar probe hit headlines earlier this month after it was reported that it had successfully landed on the far side of the moon in a world first.

Now a photograph has been released by the China National Space Administration, according to the South China Morning Post, which shows cotton seeds sprouting in a sealed container.

The image was shared on Twitter on Tuesday by the People's Daily newspaper, a mouthpiece for China's ruling Communist Party.

The newspaper said in a tweet that the development marks "the completion of humankind's first biological experiment on the moon."

Professor Liu Hanlong of Chongqing University, who led the research, said that rapeseed and potato seeds had also germinated, but that the cotton seeds were the first to sprout, the South China Morning Post reported.

While plants like zinnias and leaf vegetables have been grown in space on the International Space Station, none had ever been grown on the moon.

The breakthrough could pave the way for more biological life to be grown on the moon within a contained environment. Liu said that the potatoes could be used as the main source of food for space explorers, while the cotton could be used to make clothing and the rapeseed could be used to produce oil.

The news also highlights China's space exploration ambitions. The country is hoping to send a spacecraft to Mars next year and to eventually send manned missions to the red planet.