Potato plant successfully grown in simulated Mars environment

NASA wants to send people to Mars, but it has some issues to overcome first. One of those issues is how it will feed its astronauts. Researchers have been studying the growth of plants in microgravity environments, among other things, and now a new team has announced the successful growth of a potato plant in Mars-like conditions. It is possible this breakthrough could also aid in growing potatoes in arid regions of Earth.

The successful grow was performed in Peru using a specially made box that has high levels of carbon monoxide, the level of air pressure found at 19700ft, sub-zero temps, and lights that were regulated to simulate the Red Planet's day/night cycles. It's a terribly inhospitable arrangement for the vast majority of Earth-based plants.

A total of 65 potato varieties were planted in soil with a high saline content not unlike the kind found on Mars. All but four of the potato plants failed to sprout. Of those, the most hardy were then planted in even more harsh environments, one involving crushed rock as the substrate and a slurry of nutrients to sustain the plan.

One potato plant sprouted, a variety known as 'Unique,' aptly enough. That doesn't mean the plant will be able to survive on the surface of Mars unaided, but does indicate it may be a suitable vegetable to grow in greenhouses on the Red Planet, which would alter the growing environment to certain degree.

SOURCE: Associated Press