Scientists Grow Super Potato In Mars-like Conditions

Posted: Apr 1 2017, 8:34am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 1 2017, 8:38am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Grow Super Potato in Mars-like Conditions
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Scientists in Peru use a simulator that mimics the harsh conditions on the Red Planet to successfully grow a small potato plant

NASA researchers are experimenting with different varieties of potatoes that could grow best in Mars. And they believe that have finally found the one.

Using a simulator that mimics the harsh conditions on the Red Planet, International Potato Center (CIP) planted 65 varieties of potatoes and in the end just 4 sprouted from the soil. The potatoes were selected from a total of 4,500 varieties and the selected varieties were able to survive in extreme conditions without requiring enough water.

When researchers planted the most robust potatoes varieties under even more extreme conditions of the stimulator, the saw a small potato plant growing up nicely. The winning potato was a variety called “Unique.”

“It's a 'super potato' that resists very high carbon dioxide conditions and temperatures that get to freezing.” Julio Valdivia, an astrobiologist from Peru's University of Engineering and Technology who is working with NASA on the project said in a statement.

If humans want to colonize Mars, they will obviously need food on their way to and from Mars and also during their time on the Red Planet. Supplying food on Mars is too costly. Moreover, it takes many months to get resupplies from Earth to Mars so Mars explorers should be able to generate their own food in space. That is why researchers are studying which type of potato could be best suited for growing in space and for supporting a human settlement on Mars.

To understand the growth of potatoes on Mars, researchers created Mars-like conditions in laboratory. Soil from Pampas de La Joya desert in Southern Peru was used for the experiment, which is very similar to that found on the Red Plant. Pampas de la Joya is a part of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru that is one of the driest places on earth and receives less than a millimeter of rain a year.

Frosty below-zero temperatures, high carbon monoxide concentrations and the air pressure found on Red Planet were also mimicked in the lab.

The results indicate that potatoes could grow in dry and salty Mars-like soil with some added nutrients and this extraterrestrial food could help people survive in extreme Martian conditions.

In the future, researchers will build three more simulators to grow potato plants under extreme conditions. The aim is not only to grow food on Mars but also reproduce in large quantities.

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