Amid plans to send astronauts to and even establish a human colony on Mars, scientists are finding ways to make farming possible on the red planet.
Potato As Good Crop Candidate For Farming On Planet Mars
While there are other crops that can possibly be planted on Mars, scientists are particularly interested in one crop that can allow humans to farm on Mars: potato. Potatoes are known to thrive in harsh and dry environments and these contain 10 percent of a person's required caloric needs daily.
Potatoes come in hundreds of varieties. Scientists have also genetically modified potatoes. Now, researchers appear to have found a potato variety that appears capable of surviving and thriving in the extreme conditions of the red planet.
Scientists from the International Potato Center n Peru, in collaboration with scientists from NASA and engineers from the University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, conducted experiments to know what it would take to grow nutrient-rich spuds on Mars.
The researchers now report of a variety that is most suitable to the planet's freezing temperatures and high amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Martian Environment Simulator
Scientists built a simulator of a Martian environment inside a CubeSat satellite. The researchers designed an environment characterized by below-zero temperatures, high concentrations of carbon monoxide, and air pressure comparable to that at an altitude of 19,700 feet.
The CubeSat holds soil from the southern Peruvian desert, considered as the most Mars-like soil on Earth, being the driest known in our planet.
"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. We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive," said Julio Valdivia-Silva from UTEC.
The researchers also installed a system of lights that imitate day and night in the red planet. Cameras were likewise installed to see what is happening at all times. The cameras caught each moment a bud starts to grow.
Best Potato Variety For Planting In Mars-Like Conditions
Researchers planted the tubers in the soil and then sealed these into the CubeSat that delivers water rich in nutrients. Of the 65 varieties of potato that the researchers planted, four sprouted from the soil.
Researchers were able to identify the winning potato. It was a variety known as Unique. Valdivia-Silva, who described it as a super potato, said it can resist temperatures that get to freezing and very high carbon dioxide conditions.
CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros said that the potato has great genetic capacity to adapt to extreme conditions. CIP has earlier bred potato clones that can tolerate soil salinity and drought to help farmers in marginal areas to grow food.
The researchers plan to build three more potato simulators in extreme environments with the goal of getting a broad range of results. They also plan to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide to more closely imitate the atmosphere on the red planet.