New research conducted by scientists at the Peru-based International Potato Center (CIP), along with NASA's Ames Research Center, aims to find out if it is possible to grow potatoes on Mars under Martian skies.
The researchers grew potatoes in the soil of the Atacama Desert, which is said to be similar to the soil found on Mars. The experiment concluded that it was indeed possible to grow potatoes on the Red Planet.
"We have been looking at the very dry soils found in the southern Peruvian desert. These are the most Mars-like soils found on Earth," Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) said in a statement.
"This [research] could have a direct technological benefit on Earth and a direct biological benefit on Earth," McKay added.
The researchers placed the tuber and the soil in a container that was kept in a small satellite called CubeSat. CubeSat was then sealed tight. The satellite was used in space research on February 14.
The temperatures were adjusted according to the atmosphere on Mars, this included the composition of oxygen, carbon dioxide and air pressure. The satellite also provided nutrient-rich water to the potato plant.
The growth of potatoes was recorded by two cameras while sensors observed conditions. It was found that the potatoes grew within a span of 10 days, CBC News reported.
"Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment," says Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with SETI Institute, who has worked at NASA's Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) and now works at UTEC in Lima.
"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 will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive," Valdivia-Silva added.
According to a CIP potato breeder, Walter Amoros, potatoes possess great potential to survive in extreme environments. He was surprised, however, to see the potatoes face abiotic stress and still grow in CubeSat.
"It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we've bred to tolerate abiotic stress was able to produce tubers in this soil," Amoros said.
"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," he added.
The scientists concluded that growing potatoes on the Martian surface in the future would require soil loosely structured along with nutrients that will let the tubers get water and air in adequate quantities.
Could potatoes grow on Mars? Check the video to know more: