New Experiment Shows Potatoes can Grow on Mars

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. commission / kəˈmɪʃ ən / (v) – to give someone a task or mission

    They commissioned a famous artist to paint the walls of the museum.

  2. simulate / ˈsɪm yəˌleɪt / (v) – to act out or copy a real-life situation

    The scientists simulated an earthquake for their experiment.

  3. additive / ˈæd ɪ tɪv / (n) – a chemical substance that improves the quality of something

    Most restaurants use food additives.

  4. sprout / spraʊt / (v) – to grow immediately

    Some seeds only take a few hours to sprout.

  5. deficiency / dɪˈfɪʃ ən si / (n) – a condition of lacking something

    The children in the community suffer from nutritional deficiency.


Read the text below.

Potatoes can now be grown on Mars-like environments, according to scientists involved in the “Potato on Mars” project.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the International Potato Center (CIP) conducted an experiment, which aimed to identify potato varieties that could thrive on Mars. The scientists commissioned engineers to simulate Mars’ harsh conditions in a box called CubeSat.

The CubeSat replicates Mars in terms of its freezing temperature, air pressure, chemical content, and light cycle. In addition, it contains the salty soil from South Peru, which had been identified as the type of soil closest to the one found on Mars. According to the scientists, the CubeSat was designed to identify the minimum requirements of growing potatoes on Mars. Once the CubeSat was ready, several rounds of the experiment were done using 65 potato varieties.

The result of the first stage of the experiment showed that four potato varieties can grow in Mars-like conditions. This enabled the project to proceed with its second stage, which involved replacing the soil with crushed rocks mixed with nutrient-rich additives. Eventually, one potato variety called “Unique” sprouted. This confirmed that food may now be grown on Mars even under extreme conditions.

According to Chris McKay of NASA, the experiment can also be applied on Earth. CIP explained that since the Unique variety survived harsh conditions, it can also be grown in different places where farming is limited by drought, mineral change and other extreme conditions.

CIP also plans to use this potato variety in farmlands that have been affected by climate change to address food shortage and nutritional deficiency.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Would you eat potatoes grown on Mars? Why or why not?
• Aside from potatoes, what other kinds of food do you think can be grown on Mars?

Discussion B

• Aside from food production, what are other factors that can affect people’s survival on Mars?
• Do you think many people would want to live on Mars? Why or why not?