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Various space agencies, including NASA and the ESA, as well as several private enterprises, have all expressed their wishes to establish colonies on the planet Mars within the course of the next few decades. This ambitious dream requires a great deal of in-depth planning, and currently, leading scientists and researchers are grappling with how a potential colony would sustain itself, particularly when it comes to food. Now a new study has suggested that growing food on Mars may be simpler than was previously thought.
Research suggests that potatoes can grow on Mars.
Researchers based at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima, the capital city of Peru, attempted to grow hardy potatoes in synthetically replicated Martian soil based on open-source designs released by NASA. The soil and the potatoes were placed in a specially designed CubeSat and were exposed to conditions that would be likely to occur on the Red Planet. Despite the harsh conditions, the researchers were delighted to see that the potatoes thrived.
“If the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions that we are exposing them to in our CubeSat, they have a good chance to grow on Mars, ” said Julio Valdivia-Silva, a former SETI engineer who participated in the project. According to Valdivia-Silva, the next stage of the project will involve several further rounds of experiments to determine which potato varieties would cope the best with the extreme Martian climate. He said that it was also possible to determine what minimum conditions needed to be in place to allow for the potatoes to survive on the Red Planet.
Walter Amoros says that this experiment has even more wide-reaching implications than one might imagine. He says that the synthetically created Martian soil is not dissimilar to that found in nutrient deprived and high-salinity soils which can be found on the planet Earth and are normally considered to be completely unsuitable for farming purposes. “It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we’ve bred to tolerate abiotic stress were able to produce tubers in this soil. The results indicate that our efforts to breed varieties with high potential for strengthening food security in areas that are affected, or will be affected by climate change, are working, ” he remarked.