Researchers have shown through a study that potatoes can be grown in conditions akin to those on Mars thereby suggesting that they could actually grow on Mars itself.
The latest claim is part of the results of the Phase Two effort of the series of experiments launched by International Potato Center (CIP) that is aimed that finding out whether potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions. The team behind the experiments launched their Phase 2 on February 14 last year by planting a tuber in a specially constructed CubeSat contained environment built by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima.
Preliminary results are positive with researchers stating that if crops are able to tolerate extreme conditions that they are exposed to in the current experiment, there is all the possibility that they will grow on Mars. The results are still preliminary and scientists have confirmed they will be carrying out a number of experiments to determine which particular potato variety could yield best results on Mars.
The CubeSat has been specifically designed for this purpose and while being hermetically sealed houses a container holding soil and the tuber. The tuber is delivered nutrient rich water and the temperature in the CubeSat is controlled to match that for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
In 2016, CIP brought Mars analog soil from the Pampas de La Joya desert in Southern Peru to its experimental station in La Molina, Lima. There CIP was able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilized Earth soil for both nutrition and structure.
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.
Scientists say that one of the best performing varieties was very salt-tolerant from the CIP breeding program for adaptation to subtropical lowlands with tolerance to abiotic stress that was also recently released as a variety in Bangladesh for cultivation in coastal areas with high soil salinity. While the results are far from achieved, the team at CIP is satisfied to a certain extent already that the experiments have already provided good news about potato’s potential for helping people survive in extreme environments on Earth.