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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.