Scientists Grow Potatoes In Mars-Like Conditions

First Posted: Apr 03, 2017 04:13 AM EDT

Matt Damon's The Martian may be fictional, but like his character, it seems scientists found a way to grow potatoes on Mars. With the help of a simulator that replicates environmental conditions on the Red Planet, scientists from Peru were able to grow a small potato plant.

This is excellent news as far as colonizing Mars is concerned. The experiment was not only about bringing spuds on Mars. It was also about finding the type of potato that can resist areas on Earth that were previously thought to be non-cultivable, Astrobiologist Julio Valdivia told the Associated Press.

According to, Valdivia is working hand in hand with NASA's Ames Research Center in California. The agency helped him design the simulator called CubeSat that featured below-zero temperatures, high concentrations of carbon monoxide and air pressure found at a nearly 20,000-foot altitude. This is not the first time NASA attempted such experiment though. Most of the previous works concentrated on optimizing extraterrestrial environments to increase food and oxygen on Martian soil.

Forbes noted that the new experiment put crops in extreme conditions, as exposed by the CubeSat. If the potatoes can tolerate such climate, they have a good chance to survive on Mars.

The CubeSat houses soil from the southern Peruvian desert, which scientists think are the "most Mars-like" soil found on Earth. The spuds are then planted in the soil and sealed into the simulator, which delivers nutrient-rich water and mimics Martian temperatures in daytime and nighttime. It has also kept the plants under Martian air pressure. To keep track of their growth, cameras are trained on the spuds 24/7.

The result is straight out of Matt Damon's sci-fi movie, with potato breeder Walter Amoros remarking that potatoes have a high potential for strengthening food security in areas around the globe that are affected by climate change and famine. The next stage of the experiment will soon be underway.

Scientists will have to widen the experimental base to get a broader range of results. They will also have to increase carbon dioxide concentrations to bring the spuds ever nearer to Martian atmosphere.

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