For the first time, scientists prove that food grown in Martian soil is edible and safe to eat. The breakthrough research gives hope to the realization of a future human colony on the red planet.
A team of researchers from the Wageningen University & Research Centre in Netherlands attempted to grow crops in soils that were simulated to mimic the conditions not just on Mars but also on the Moon. The experiment started in 2013.
The initial concern is that even if the soils yield crops, the produce might contain hazardous levels of metals and these could be toxic when eaten by humans.
Interestingly, not only were they able to prove that crops can grow on Martian soil and that the edible harvests are safe for human consumption, but these crops were also "possibly" healthier than their counterparts grown on Earth.
"For radish, pea, rye and tomato we did a preliminary analysis and the results are very promising. We can eat them," said Dr. Wieger Wamelink.
Findings showed that only the radishes had high levels of nickel, aluminum and iron. Compared with the other crops grown in lunar soil, only radishes grew significantly less. But the scientists believe washing away the lunar soil can help lower the levels and make radishes safe for consumption.
The crowdfunded project is gearing up to test other crops that could be grown on cosmic soil, such as potatoes, spinach and green beans. They will also test the levels of alkaloids, vitamins and flavonoids in the crops.
In the crop experiments, the researchers used soil gathered from a volcano located in Hawaii to mimic the "Martian soil." They mixed the volcanic soil with freshly cut grass and placed them on shallow trays. This made it easier for the researchers to water the experimental crops.
They experimented with 10 crops - rye, tomato, pea, radish, spinach, leek, cress, garden rocket, chives and quinoa. A control group contained regular potting soil and also grew the same 10 crops.
According to Wamelink, research donors will get a "variety of potential gifts." One of these gifts is a special dinner that will feature crops the project has harvested and this will include Martian potatoes.
"It's important to test as many crops as possible, to make sure that settlers on Mars have access to a broad variety of different food sources," said Wamelink.