‘Potatoes likely to survive in Mars’

Press Trust of India Washington | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on March 09, 2017


Study shows the veggie tolerates soil salinity, drought

Potatoes can be grown even in the extreme environment of Mars, according to a new study that has implications for future manned missions to the red planet, as well as helping people survive in harsh climates on Earth.

The International Potato Centre (CIP) in Peru launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars’ atmospheric conditions and thereby prove they are also able to grow in extreme climates on Earth.

The Phase Two effort of CIP’s proof-of-concept experiment to grow potatoes in simulated Martian conditions began in February last year, when a tuber was planted in a specially-constructed miniature satellite CubeSat by researchers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Peru.

“Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment,” said Julio Valdivia-Silva, research associate at the SETI Institute, a US-based research organisation.

“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 Valdivia-Silva.

Made for the red planet

The CubeSat houses a container holding soil and the tuber. Inside this hermetically sealed environment the CubeSat delivers nutrient rich water, controls the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Sensors constantly monitor these conditions and live streaming cameras record the soil in anticipation of the potato sprouting. CIP has tapped into that capacity by breeding potato clones that tolerate conditions such as soil salinity and drought, in order to help smallholder farmers grow food in marginal areas that could grow harsher under climate change.

“This research could have a direct technological benefit on Earth and a direct biological benefit on Earth,” said Chris McKay from NASA.

From the initial experiment, CIP scientists concluded that future Mars missions that hope to grow potatoes will have to prepare soil with a loose structure and nutrients to allow the tubers to obtain enough air and water to allow it to tuberize.

Published on March 09, 2017
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