Now Potatoes can Grow on Mars

Potatoes, Mars

In the scientific simulation, 4 types of potatoes proved to be suitable for planting on Mars. But they will help to alleviate problems caused by climate change on Earth.

A joint project by NASA and the International Potato Center (CIP) gave scientific evidence on the possibility of planting at least four types of potatoes on the red planet.

But in addition to this interplanetary possibility, it was also observed that this crop is genetically adapted to adapt to the environmental changes that the Earth experiences and grow under more adverse conditions.

That is why, before making reality what cinema advanced in the film “Rescue Mission” – in which the character embodied by the actor Matt Damon grows potatoes to stay alive while waiting to be rescued -, the thousand-year-old tuber has a mission in the earth.

The Astro-pop quartet

The study identified four types of potato, out of a total of 65, which demonstrated their resistance to high salinity conditions, making tubers in a soil similar to Mars.

One of these potatoes is the Tacna variety, developed in Peru in 1993, characterized by its high resistance to salt, which was introduced to China shortly after, where it showed high tolerance to drought and saline soils without almost requiring irrigation.

It became so popular that it was relaunched in that country in 2006 under the name of Jizhangshu 8. Similar success was obtained in Uzbekistan, a country characterized by saline and arid soils, high temperatures and water shortages. There it was renamed as Pskom.

Another variety that passed all the tests is cultivated in coastal areas of Bangladesh with soils of high salinity and high temperatures. And the other two are promising clones, that is, potatoes in the process of testing that by their attributes are considered candidates to be a new variety.

These four types of potato come from the CIP breeding program for adaptation to subtropical lowlands – such as those in extreme temperatures in Asia – and are expected to be heavily affected by climate change.

Before, on Earth

But in addition to these four “finalist” potatoes, other clones and varieties also managed to survive the soils and under extreme conditions, which gives researchers new clues to genetics that helps them cope with severe weather conditions on Earth as well.

“It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes that we have improved to tolerate adverse conditions were able to produce tubers on this soil,” says Walter Amoros, potato grower at CIP, one of the five researchers involved in the project, who has dedicated more than 30 years to research the tuber.

Inspirational project

For Alberto García, an adviser to FAO’s representation in Peru in charge of food security programs, this experiment “serves to verify that potato, a product of great nutritional and nutritional value, is a crop extremely adaptable to the worst conditions “, Which is very relevant to current climate change.

Garcia stresses that the increase in temperatures is occurring at an unexpected rate, affecting not only the potato but also other crops that are now planted at a higher altitude, which is not bad and may even be beneficial for some that previously were only planted in floors of the valley.

“But it can also have negative consequences that we have to anticipate,” he adds. That’s why this experiment can inspire others to get ahead of future scenarios and see what other crops adapt to extreme events with an impact on agriculture.

Similar to Mars

The project began with the search for soil similar to Mars. After multiple checks, Julio Valdivia-Silva, a Peruvian researcher who worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center, determined that the soil samples collected in the Pampas de la Joya in southern Peru were the most similar that can be found on our planet.

Confirmed by volcanic rocks and without any form of life, in addition to arid, the soil samples were extremely saline.

With the help of engineers from the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima, a “CubeSat”, a miniature satellite, was built at the CIP based on the design and advice provided by NASA’s Ames Center, in order to create a confined environment most similar to the Martian atmosphere, where the potatoes were placed.

“If the potatoes could tolerate the extreme conditions to which we are exposing them in our CubeSat, they have a good opportunity to develop on Mars,” says Valdivia-Silva.

They then conducted several rounds of experiments to find out which varieties were better able to withstand the extreme conditions and what the minimum conditions each crop needed to survive.

The hermetically sealed CubeSat housed a container with the soil of La Joya where one of the tubers was cultivated. CubeSat itself supplied nutrient-rich water, controlled the temperature according to the hours of day and night on Mars, and imitated the planet’s pressure levels of air, oxygen and carbon dioxide.

As also there were cameras of live transmission recording the ground it was possible to see in direct the precise moment of budding of the potato.

According to the results, CIP scientists argue that to plant potatoes on Mars, the missions in charge will have to prepare the soil with a loose structure and nutrients that allow the tubers to obtain enough air and water to be able to pipe.

In a next phase, scientists hope to subject successful varieties to increasingly extreme growth conditions. This requires – among other things – to develop a prototype of greater precision that will involve an investment of US $ 100,000.

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