Study: Potatoes can grow on Mars

"It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we've bred to tolerate abiotic stress were able to produce tubers in this soil," researcher Julio Valdivia-Silva said.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 8, 2017 at 2:03 PM

March 8 (UPI) -- CubeSat indicator experiments prove potatoes can grow on Mars. The findings show potatoes can also grow under extreme conditions on Earth.

Scientists with the International Potato Center created Mars-like growing conditions inside a CubeSat designed by engineers at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru. The potato plants inside the experimental box are reportedly thriving.

The box mimics the day-night patterns of Mars, as well as its temperature, air pressure and atmospheric composition. Sensors inside the hermetically-sealed box monitor the progress of the tubers.

"Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment," Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute, said in a news release. "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."

The genome of the potato plant is dynamic. Its genes boast considerable adaptive potential. Researchers have previously engineered potatoes to survive salty soils and drought conditions.

The results of previous experiments helped scientists design a soil ideal for simulating Martian growing conditions.

"It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we've bred to tolerate abiotic stress were able to produce tubers in this soil," CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros said.

One of the varieties growing under Martian conditions is a variety originally engineered to grow in the salty soils of coastal Bangladesh.

"The results indicate that our efforts to breed varieties with high potential for strengthening food security in areas that are affected, or will be affected by climate change, are working," Amoros concluded.

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