Author of The Martian, Andy Weir might have been on to something when he made his character survive his time on Mars by successfully planting and cultivating potatoes, with a group of scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP) close to confirming that the vegetable can indeed survive the Red Planet’s harsh conditions. Locked within a controlled and sealed environment called CubeSat, potatoes were put under Mars conditions and monitored daily.
The conditions on Mars are a lot harsher than those on Earth, so scientists used all available data to try and accurately replicate them within the CubeSat. Using sand from the Palpas de La Joya from Peru to mimic Martian soil, potatoes were exposed to all the variables, including temperature, night/day cycle as well as oxygen and carbon dioxide levels; scientists added a bit of nutrient-rich water to the mix and recorded any changes.
The experiment was a success, with tubers manifesting themselves on the potatoes and scientists impressed at the potato’s apparent resilience. These results aren’t enough however, with the team vying to see just how far the potato can be pushed before it is completely unable to survive. Whilst the Potatoes on Mars project has yielded interesting results about the viability of agriculture on Mars, CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros explains that their discovery can have a much bigger impact closer to home:
“It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we’ve bred to tolerate abiotic stress were able to produce tubers in this soil. 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.”
Indeed, the findings made by the Mars-orientated research group could end up helping out with scientists’ search for durable foods for areas under high environmental stress. With extreme weather and changing environments expected to increase on our planet over the upcoming years, many within the agricultural sector will be keeping an eye out for the full results of this study, as crops are one of the many sectors of our foodweb that will be negatively affected by climate change.