Soil silicates that enter a wound activate a blood protein that begins the coagulation process in land mammals, according to a study conducted at the University of British Columbia and released Monday. That protein, called coagulation Factor XII, starts a chain reaction to form a plug over the wound, stemming the blood flow and allowing the healing process to begin in earnest.

The research could mean the difference between life and death for trauma patients, up to 40 percent of whom die of excessive bleeding, lead author Christian Kastrup said in a press release accompanying the study, which was published in Blood Advances. “In extreme cases and in remote areas without access to healthcare and wound sealing products…sterilized soil could potentially be used to stem deadly bleeding following injuries.” 

While not all dirt is created equal – the unsterilized variety still poses a risk commensurate with whatever impurities or pathogens are lurking in it – soil silicates are the most common substance in the earth’s crust. The researchers also found the relationship between dirt and blood is unique to terrestrial mammals, indicating a natural evolutionary process is responsible for developing the ability. Cetaceans (dolphins and whales) and birds did not experience accelerated clotting. 

“These results will have a profound impact on the way we view our relationship with our environment,” study co-author Lih Jiin Juang said in the press release.

The researchers haven’t limited their ambitions to Earth. They next plan to test whether silicates from moon dirt also trigger this clotting process, a discovery that “could prove useful in preventing death among people visiting or colonizing the moon,” Kastrup said.

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