Less than a year after NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) found salty liquid water intermittently flowing on the surface of Mars, astrobiologists at the US-based Space Organization have announced their latest ambitious venture, which is to grow a potato farm on this Red Planet.
In a first of its kind project, Peru’s International Potato Center has joined hands with them in an effort to make history by growing life under otherwise hostile conditions.
Doesn’t this remind you of the movie ‘The Martian’ where Matt Damon tries to grow potatoes in Mars? Super cool, eh!
What first began in 2012 as a search for extraterrestrial life has now turned into an attempt to transport Earthly life to different parts of the Galaxy. Until now, with it’s 84 to -284 degree Fahrenheit average temperature range and 96% rich carbon dioxide atmosphere, finding any kind of life on Mars would have been conceived impossible.
But upon the discovery of soil in the Pampas de La Joya region of Peru’s Atacama Desert, with pH and other abiotic conditions bearing resemblance to the one on the surface of Mars, scientists now plan on using this as a test ground to grow 65 different varieties of the potatoes before transferring them to simulators for further research.
“It’s a big challenge to take a living organism somewhere else. We’ve never done this before.” said NASA’s Julio Valdivia-Silva.
But it goes without saying that the challenge would definitely be worth a try.
The project, that began earlier this year in the month of January, aims at addressing two major concerns. Firstly, if human colonization of Mars is to become a reality in the near future, there will need to be an ample supply of food resources out there to go by. Of all the different crops, the potato was chosen primarily because of its ability to grow under harsh conditions of low pressure and extreme cold. Moreover, not only is it a rich source of carbohydrates, proteins, Vitamin C, Zinc and Iron, but they can also be used a potential source of industrially relevant products .
Secondly, the scientists are also using this opportunity to explore the kind of role this tuber could play in the improvement of global food security.
For growing this farm, scientists have chosen potato varieties that are known for their resilient traits. Among these is the LTVR (Lowland Tropical Virus Resistant) potato clones that are not only resistant to viruses but also exhibit excellent tolerance towards unfavorable heat and drought. The spuds have already been planted and the soil has been sealed in a laboratory that simulates Mars’s distinct atmospheric condition. Once the best of the saplings are selected, they will then be shifted to conditions mimicking the space travel.
If Phase II proves to be a success too, NASA would soon find a way to feeding future human colonists at reduced costs and for producing better sustainable systems. But the flavor, however, would still be a matter of concern.
Walter Amoros from the International Potato Centre (CIP) said, “The flavor could change under the stress, which is common on Earth when potatoes are exposed to severe drought and high temperatures. That sometimes makes them so bitter they are inedible.”
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