Indicators show potatoes can grow on Mars

March 8, 2017
CubeSat contained Mars atmosphere emulating Mars oxygen, carbon dioxide and atmospheric pressure. Credit: International Potato Center

The International Potato Center (CIP) launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions and thereby prove they are also able to grow in extreme climates on Earth. This Phase Two effort of CIP's proof of concept experiment to grow potatoes in simulated Martian conditions began on February 14, 2016 when a tuber was planted in a specially constructed CubeSat contained environment built by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima based upon designs and advice provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Ames Research Center (NASA ARC), California. Preliminary results are positive.

The Potatoes on Mars project was conceived by CIP to both understand how potatoes might grow in Mars conditions and also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from and weather shocks are already experiencing.

"Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment," says Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute who has worked at NASA's Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) and now works at UTEC in Lima. "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. We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. "We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive," he said.

The CubeSat houses a container holding soil and the tuber. Inside this hermetically sealed environment the CubeSat delivers nutrient rich water, controls the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Sensors constantly monitor these conditions and live streaming cameras record the soil in anticipation of the potato sprouting.

According to CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros, one advantage potato great genetic capacity for adaptation to extreme environments. CIP has tapped into that capacity by breeding potato clones that tolerate conditions such as soil salinity and drought, in order to help smallholder farmers grow food in marginal areas that could grow harsher under climate change.

In 2016, CIP brought Mars analog soil from the Pampas de La Joya desert in Southern Peru to its experimental station in La Molina, Lima. There CIP was able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilized Earth soil for both nutrition and structure.

The video will load shortly
Timelapse video of potato sprouting in Mars-like conditions. Credit: International Potato Center

"We have been looking at the very dry soils found in the southern Peruvian desert. These are the most Mars-like soils found on Earth." Chris McKay of NASA ARC. "This [research] could have a direct technological benefit on Earth and a direct biological benefit on Earth," says Chris McKay of NASA ARC.

From the initial experiment, CIP scientists concluded that future Mars missions that hope to grow potatoes will have to prepare soil with a loose structure and nutrients to allow the tubers to obtain enough air and water to allow it to tuberize.

"It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we've bred to tolerate abiotic stress were able to produce tubers in this soil," Amoros said. He added that one of the best performing varieties was very salt-tolerant from the CIP breeding program for adaptation to subtropical lowlands with tolerance to abiotic stress that was also recently released as a variety in Bangladesh for cultivation in coastal areas with high soil salinity.

Amoros noted that whatever their implications for Mars missions, the experiments have already provided good news about potato's potential for helping people survive in extreme environments on Earth.

"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," he said.

The Potatoes on Mars project has been conducted by CIP with the advice of NASA ARC and construction of the CubeSat technology was done by student engineers and their advisors at UTEC. NASA and UTEC scientist Julio Valdivia-Silva collaborated extensively with teams of UTEC and CIP scientists on both phases of this experiment. He identified the from Pampas de La Joya desert and led the effort to construct the sophisticated CubeSat.

Explore further: NASA to simulate growing potatoes on Mars in Peru

More information: Live streams of the experiment can be viewed at potatoes.space/mars or by going to the CIP website at http://www.CIPotato.org.

Provided by: International Potato Center / Centro Internacional de la Papa

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setnom
Mar 08, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
EyeNStein
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 08, 2017
Its good to know that the Peruvian Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP) vision for future potato development extends out to Mars. (Pay rises all round then.)
If global warming continues: The Peruvian deserts can only get more Mars like.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Mar 08, 2017
Heck, when potatoes were brought back from the new world they garnered premium prices as a novelty dish at the courts (of course it took a while until people figured out which parts of the plant to cook/eat. A few high-profile deaths were involved) . Imagine what kind of prices you'll pay for 'Mars-taters' at your local store.
alwin
3.3 / 5 (4) Mar 08, 2017
The article lacks details, suggests Mars environment simulation, which is quite impossible for plants to survive. Based on my knowledge it was just a salty nutrition poor soil, which is good for some desert like Earth places, but not Mars. Nothing about perchlorates and no details about the atmosphere composition, pressure and temperature.

Still, however, great they do research in this area - growing food is very important for any permanent (or extended) human presence outside Earth.
Whydening Gyre
3.5 / 5 (4) Mar 08, 2017
Life imitates art...;-)
This was done in last year's "The Martian"...
Solon
1 / 5 (1) Mar 08, 2017
Are there any direct measurements of the solar spectrum from the surface of Mars?
Consultofactus
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 08, 2017
Except with the high levels of cosmic radiation on Mars the potatoes will actually be able to see with their eyes...
Mimath224
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 08, 2017
Life imitates art...;-)
This was done in last year's "The Martian"...

Oh yes, I've seen that movie, personal excrement for fertilizer. What about some horses for some manure? Yes I appreciate the problems of getting horses to Mars but let's dream a little eh? And how about a picture of that from you...would brighten up my day no end, Ha!
lewisgoudy
3 / 5 (2) Mar 08, 2017
I wonder how they simulated protracted dust storms at 150 mph.
Pooua
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 08, 2017
Yeah, Phys.Org, I'm going have to demand a recount on this article. I'm pretty sure that it's a crummy translation from Spanish, without proof-reading. There is no way at all that a potato plant is going to grow at 100 degrees below zero in a near-vacuum.
RobAz
3.5 / 5 (2) Mar 09, 2017
"There CIP was able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilized Earth soil for both nutrition and structure."

So if you introduce fertilized Earth soil for nutrition and structure, you created a non-Mars artificial environment.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Mar 09, 2017
I wonder how they simulated protracted dust storms at 150 mph.
@lewisgoudy
it's not like in the movie where people and stuff get picked up and thrown...

the martian atmosphere is very thin
read this article from PO on that topic for more information: https://phys.org/...rms.html

Focusing on wind speed may be a little misleading, as well. The atmosphere on Mars is about 1 percent as dense as Earth's atmosphere

JuanitaBroaddricksUpperLip
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2017
Simulate a Mars cow and voila, au gratin.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Mar 09, 2017
Brits imported potatoes into ireland where they quickly became the staple food. The population swelled by 1/3 because of their unique ability to grow in that environment. Then they imported the blight and people began to starve. But a wave of immigration to america was created. The pop subsequently dropped by 1/3.

This is called an immigration pump. What is a melting pot without process material? War and disease are used to similar effect.

And yes, ben carson was right when he referred to slaves as immigrants. How many gladly boarded those ships to work in the new world for room and board to escape the constant violence of intertribal warfare?

Anybody want to spin that angle?
mensa141
Mar 09, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
wererabbit
2 / 5 (4) Mar 09, 2017
Gee, I remember back in the day when you did an experiment, you actually did it. Imagine, actually trying to grow potatoes in Peruvian deserts instead of a box. We used to call those "real" experiments. How this is news is beyond me. Utter waste of time and money
bgilliam83
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2017
It's officially a wild goose chase now. Surely they know Mars does not have any soil.
bgilliam83
2 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2017
Matt Damon already proved you could grow potatoes on Mars. Didn't any of you see the movie?


except the important fact that he was in a green house and used his own turds as fertilizer. That is possible. This experiment is not.
Yirmin_Snipe
4 / 5 (3) Mar 09, 2017
You know until they can figure out how to generate a magnetic field on the entire planet to protect the surface from radiation and allow a atmosphere without being blown away by solar winds finding a veggie that will grow there is really kind of pointless.
pfbonney
not rated yet Mar 09, 2017
"...in order to help smallholder farmers grow food in marginal areas that could grow harsher under climate change."

Shouldn't that read "during climate changes"?
danR
not rated yet Mar 09, 2017
What level of English translation, let alone experimental sloth, is phys org willing to tolerate before it refuses publication?
joeychik
not rated yet Mar 09, 2017
Talk to me when we discover dilithium crystals.
bert_x
not rated yet Mar 09, 2017
alwin ..
Nothing about perchlorates and no details about the atmosphere composition, pressure and temperature.


Perchlorates are commonly found in substantial quantities in earth's deserts and other dry regions .. that is not something unique to Mars soil. The Cubesat simulates "the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels." How much more detail than that do you need? This experiment is proof enough that potatoes could grow in protected habitats.
dellrichards
not rated yet Mar 09, 2017
Well of course they can. Matt Dillon already proved it when he was stranded on Mars...
Friedrich
not rated yet Mar 09, 2017
What the study does not show is the ultimate axiom! Life comes from life! In order for any plants to grow successfully ----- soil must be "living". Fungus, bacteria, microorganisms, and organic materials which had been broken down from previous life forms, a whole circle of life must exist! So, to even start to "grow" potatoes -------- a lot more than potatoes need to be imported to Martian "soil" to bring it TO LIFE!
bert_x
not rated yet Mar 09, 2017
Pooua said,
There is no way at all that a potato plant is going to grow at 100 degrees below zero in a near-vacuum.

But, they could easily grow inside the same type of protected habitats that Mars colonists will be living in. Just special greenhouses there.
retrosurf
5 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2017
bert_x, friedrich, dellrichards, joeychik, pfbonney, wererabbit, mensa141, robaz:
Today is your phys.org birthday!

Welcome back, alwin: you signed up yesterday.
humy
3.8 / 5 (4) Mar 09, 2017
what on earth are they talking about!?
They are talking total RUBBISH.
It is IMPOSSIBLE to grow ANY of our crops including potatoes in an atmospheric pressure that is too low to sustain liquid water.
The atmospheric pressure is simply too low on Mars.
ALL plants need liquid water in their tissues to sustain growth, including potatoes.
At such low pressure, liquid water would rapidly evaporate off if not explosively boil off to the thin air and not even cacti can survive that!

The link says;

"...According to CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros, one advantage potato great genetic capacity for adaptation to extreme environments.
..."

Err, NOT to environments SO extreme that such adaptation is physically and biologically IMPOSSIBLE! What they are implying there is what is called "magic".
This is total BULLOCKS.

Next they will be talking about growing potatoes on the Moon without any atmosphere.
BMTOKC
5 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2017
Where's the beef?

We can't eat taters without the beef.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Mar 09, 2017
Life imitates art...;-)
This was done in last year's "The Martian"...

Oh yes, I've seen that movie, personal excrement for fertilizer. What about some horses for some manure? Yes I appreciate the problems of getting horses to Mars but let's dream a little eh? And how about a picture of that from you...would brighten up my day no end, Ha!

I s'pose he could have used urine. (Easier to liberate the nitrogen in a liquid) But that would've detracted from the situational humour aspect (The "eww" factor).
As for pictures - imagine a Lipizan in Martian gravity...:-) Or better yet - strapped in a capsule chair...:-)
Mimath224
5 / 5 (3) Mar 09, 2017
@Whydening Gyre, Ha! But wouldn't a Friesian breed do better?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Mar 10, 2017
@Whydening Gyre, Ha! But wouldn't a Friesian breed do better?

Can they do a better Lippizanner hop?
rgw
Mar 11, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Mimath224
5 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2017
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day.

Ha!, you've got me there. I was thinking more of larger amounts of ...by-product?
Mimath224
5 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2017
Sorry,rgw I quoted wrongly.
@Whydening Gyre, Ha! But wouldn't a Friesian breed do better?

Can they do a better Lippizanner hop?

Ha! You've got me there. I was thinking more of larger amounts of...by-product?
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 12, 2017
They are talking total RUBBISH.
It is IMPOSSIBLE to grow ANY of our crops including potatoes in an atmospheric pressure that is too low to sustain liquid water.
The atmospheric pressure is simply too low on Mars
@humy
no one is saying "lets take the John Deere to Mars and plow the sh*t out of that nice dirt and plant 'taters"...

they're showing that it would be feasible to grow them should there be a colony to establish - that means, by definition, that there would have to be the requisite air, water, pressure, etc, because i don't see farmer Bob shucking on his coveralls to ride a rover without also having the requisite necessities for the simple things like: breathing, survival, etc

.

I s'pose he could have used urine. (Easier to liberate the nitrogen in a liquid)
@Whyde
nothing wrong with using human poo if you have heat and time to break down the dangerous pathogens
urine is ok, but the ammonia isn't so much
Pooua
5 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2017
But, they could easily grow inside the same type of protected habitats that Mars colonists will be living in. Just special greenhouses there.


That wouldn't be Mars atmospheric conditions.
Mimath224
5 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2017
Sorry posters, I can't remember where I read it, but someone in Europe came up with some idea with an underground installation, but close to the surface, on Mars that allowed for a 'filtered' radiation set up. Anyone else read about this?
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2017
Anyone else read about this?
@Mimath224
we've talked about it in the threads here on PO more than a few times in the past two years... are you sure that wasn't where you heard it?

here is one from 2013 - http://io9.gizmod...70263788

more: https://www.cnet....tures/2/

we've discussed this in other threads on Mars - including the potato issue and growing, etc

Pooua
5 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2017
I've written to the researchers. He says that the potatoes in Phase I grew under conditions that might be found at 4500 meters altitude, but in Phase II they are trying to see how much more extreme the potatoes could survive. They have only just started Phase II. Their CubeSat can reach atmospheric pressure of 80mbar and temperatures close to -10°C.
Mimath224
5 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2017
@Captain Stumpy, yep, you may well be right 'cos I remember seeing pictures on the links you provided. Thanks
JulioVS
5 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2017
Guys, the press release was misunderstood. If you need more clarifications of this phase 2 experiment, please email me to julvalsil@gmail.com
Thanks you.
JulioVS
5 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2017


Agreed,you have to go to the researchers and ask them
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2017
But, they could easily grow inside the same type of protected habitats that Mars colonists will be living in. Just special greenhouses there.


That wouldn't be Mars atmospheric conditions.

Not about mars atmosphere. It's about Mar's soil composition+simulated earth atmosphere...
(Plus a maybe a few "human poop" amines...)
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2017
(Plus a maybe a few "human poop" amines...)
@Whyde
with treatment... sure
*not* straight up

if you're interested in an experiment (try with non-edibles first), there are books out there that are pretty straight forward and explain how it works, like this one, which is pretty good (i have a copy): http://humanurehandbook.com/

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