Yes, Mark Watney in “The Martian” would be potato proud.
Indicators show potatoes can grow on Mars according to The International Potato Center (CIP).
The Potatoes on Mars project was conceived by CIP to both understand how potatoes might grow in Mars conditions and also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from climate change and weather shocks are now experiencing.
The Potatoes on Mars team is a cross-disciplinary group of CIP and NASA scientists representing the fields of agriculture, plant breeding, astrobiology, medicine, and physics. Together they are exploring how to grow potatoes on Mars while simultaneously benefiting farmers here on Earth.
According to a CIP press release, potato breeder Walter Amoros explains that researchers are breeding potato clones that tolerate conditions such as soil salinity and drought.
Dry, salty soil
In 2016, CIP brought Mars analog soil from the Pampas de La Joya desert in Southern Peru to its experimental station in La Molina, Lima. There CIP was able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilized Earth soil for both nutrition and structure.
“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,” says Chris McKay of NASA’s Ames Research Center. “This [research] could have a direct technological benefit on Earth and a direct biological benefit on Earth,” McKay adds.
CIP scientists have concluded that future Mars missions that hope to grow potatoes will have to prepare soil with a loose structure and nutrients to allow the tubers to obtain enough air and water to allow it to tuberize.
CIP is part of the CGIAR, a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food secure future. CGIAR research is dedicated to reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources.
For more information on this innovative research, go to:
Live streams of the experiment can be viewed at: http://potatoes.space/mars/
The CIP website is at: www.CIPotato.org
A video on the research can be found here: