‘Po­ta­toes can grow on Mars’

New Straits Times - - World -

LIMA: Po­ta­toes on Mars? Sci­en­tists are re­port­ing promis­ing re­sults grow­ing the tu­ber un­der con­di­tions that mimic the Red Planet in an ex­per­i­ment in Peru linked to United States space agency Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion (Nasa).

“Pre­lim­i­nary re­sults are pos­i­tive,” the In­ter­na­tional Potato Cen­tre (CIP) said this week af­ter a potato grew un­der sim­u­lated Mars at­mo­spheric con­di­tions in an ex­per­i­ment here.

CIP, in a re­port, said a potato was planted in a spe­cially con­structed CubeSat con­tained en­vi­ron­ment built by en­gi­neers from the Univer­sity of En­gi­neer­ing and Tech­nol­ogy here.

The ex­per­i­ment ran from Feb 14 to March 5.

“Grow­ing crops un­der Mars­like con­di­tions is an im­por­tant phase of this ex­per­i­ment,” said Julio Val­divia-Silva, a Peru­vian as­tro­bi­ol­o­gist at Utec, who pre­vi­ously worked at Nasa.

“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,” he said, adding that sev­eral rounds of ex­per­i­ments would be con­ducted to find out which potato va­ri­eties did best.

Po­ta­toes, one of the world’s largest food crops, are be­lieved to have first been cul­ti­vated by the Inca In­di­ans in Peru from 8,000 BC to 5,000 BC.

The po­ten­tial abil­ity of po­ta­toes to grow un­der such con­di­tions could sig­nal prom­ise for food sup­plies un­der cli­mate change and ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments.

“The re­sults show 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,” said CIP potato breeder Wal­ter Amoros.

The cus­tom en­vi­ron­ment for the Po­ta­toes on Mars pro­ject was based upon de­signs and ad­vice pro­vided by Nasa.

The sci­en­tists “con­cluded that fu­ture Mars mis­sions that hope to grow po­ta­toes will have to pre­pare soil with a loose struc­ture and nu­tri­ents to al­low tu­bers to ob­tain enough air and wa­ter to al­low it to tu­berise”, CIP said.

They used very dry soils found in the south­ern Peru­vian desert, not­ing they were the most Mars­like soils found on Earth.

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