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Mars Earth

Study Suggests Potatoes Can Grow On Mars (phys.org) 198

The International Potato Center (CIP) has launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars' atmospheric conditions, as well as under extreme conditions on Earth. The CIP placed a potato inside a "specially constructed CubeSat contained environment" that simulates Mars temperature, air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. They then used sensors and live-streaming cameras to record the soil and monitor the status of the potato. Preliminary results are positive as cameras inside the container show sprouts. Phys.Org reports: "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.
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Study Suggests Potatoes Can Grow On Mars

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  • We know... (Score:5, Funny)

    by hmblcodr ( 4861365 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @06:03AM (#54005219)

    ...Matt Damon already showed us.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @06:20AM (#54005255)

    Colonization of Mars possible now! Vodka available!

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @06:26AM (#54005275) Homepage

    Yeah, you can grow things in Mars regolith. If you first remove the toxic perchlorates. And the hexavalent chromium. And the general excess of arsenic. And on and on. Basically, if you take a highly polluted natural material and remediate the various pollutants from it, then add water, you can grow plants in it. Well golly gee, whoda thunk that?

    This project is a stunt by a potato council. They're not growing potatoes in Mars regolith or anything similarly contaminated, they're growing them in soil taken from the Pampas de La Joya desert. Interviewed elsewhere:

    The goal is to raise awareness of the incredible resilience of potatoes, and fund further research and farming in devastated areas across the globe where malnutrition and poverty are rife and climbing.

    “How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago?” said Joel Ranck, CIP Head of Communications. “We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth.”

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Oh, heck, from the look of it the thing's not even in space [cipotato.org].

      Yep, check out the timelapse mode [potatoes.space] on the livestream - there's clearly people walking by outside. For crying out loud...

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @06:39AM (#54005297) Homepage

        No information anywhere specifying what pressure (Pa, mbar, psi, atm....) they're using in there, but I can tell you it's not a Marslike ~600Pa / 6mbar / 0.006 atm, because that's below the Armstrong limit, and water can't exist in a liquid phase at those pressures (the "liquid water flowing on Mars" was actually concentrated toxic deliquescent brine). I can also tell you that they're not using Marslike temperatures because it's not exactly a secret that potatoes don't sprout or survive in the winter.

        What a load of hype.

        • by Muros ( 1167213 )

          >

          What a load of hype.

          The article wasn't a complete dud. Before reading it, I had not known that "one advantage potato great genetic capacity for adaptation".

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, duh! If you use Wikipedia too look up what's in Mars regolith and you fantasize that plants grow out of water alone, it's obviously easy.

    • Yeah, you can grow things in Mars regolith. If you first remove the toxic perchlorates. And the hexavalent chromium. And the general excess of arsenic. And on and on. Basically, if you take a highly polluted natural material and remediate the various pollutants from it, then add water, you can grow plants in it. Well golly gee, whoda thunk that?

      You won't be able to eat everything grown in the regolith, but you will be able to eat some plants [ecowatch.com].

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @07:23AM (#54005381) Homepage

        Mars One, seriously?

        That alone is enough reason to discount them, but beyond that, they don't state what simulant they used. There are two main Mars regolith simulants out there. JSC MARS-1 (most recent, MARS-1A) is ash from the Pu'u Nene cinder cone (simply dug up and sieved); and MMS, which is crushed Mojave desert rock. They only match Mars (very, very roughly) in terms of bulk composition, not at all in terms of hygroscopic and toxic compounds (MMS is somewhat hygroscopic, MARS-1A not at all). Mars perchlorates are not just hygroscopic, they're delequescent. And it's packed full of toxic compounds you generally don't find on Earth (outside of superfund sites, at least ;) )

    • Yeah, you can grow things in Mars regolith. If you first remove the toxic perchlorates. And the hexavalent chromium. And the general excess of arsenic. And on and on. Basically, if you take a highly polluted natural material and remediate the various pollutants from it, then add water, you can grow plants in it.

      Sure, the toxic substances may need to be removed to make the potatoes safe for us to eat, but will they just, simply, grow without removing them? Growing and eating are two different things.

    • by sudon't ( 580652 )

      Right. Like it's not enough to show that they can be grown in Idaho.

  • by OneSmartFellow ( 716217 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @06:31AM (#54005285)
    ... to be able to grow tomatoes.

    Tomatoes ??   I hear you ask.

    Well, of course, you can't eat Fries without Ketchup, can you ?
    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @06:45AM (#54005311) Homepage

      Outside of the US, most people prefer mayonaise with their fries.
      We need to raise chickens on Mars.

      • by fisted ( 2295862 )

        Outside of the US, most people prefer mayonaise with their fries.

        True -- inside the US, most people prefer some fries with their bowl of mayonaise.

      • by phayes ( 202222 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @08:06AM (#54005469) Homepage

        Belgium != the rest of the world outside the U.S.
        Different countries, different tastes. For France mustard would predominate, for Canada gravy & cheese curds, etc.

      • Outside of the US, most people prefer mayonaise with their fries. We need to raise chickens on Mars.

        In Holland maybe, not too sure about elsewhere. Outside the US is a big place.

    • You can graft tomatoes to potato roots. If you can grow potato, you can grow tomato, if you use the graft technique.

      Google "Amazing potato tomato". It's pre-grafted plants for your garden.

    • Have you not seen the movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"??? I, for one, will welcome our new potato overlords.
      • by tsqr ( 808554 )

        Have you not seen the movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"???

        Yes I have. But I found "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago" more terrifying.

    • "... to be able to grow tomatoes."

      Sure, why not? Just turn up the heat a bit. Heat? You weren't planning to grow potatoes at an average temperature of -50C I should hope.

    • ... to be able to grow tomatoes.

      Tomatoes ?? I hear you ask.

      Well, of course, you can't eat Fries without Ketchup, can you ?

      That's not true. As long as our astronauts are all over the age of 7 no-one is going to want ketchup anyway.

    • Well, of course, you can't eat Fries without Ketchup, can you ?

      Of course you can. And you should. Not that a little ketchup is bad but if you wouldn't eat the fries plain with just some salt then they are badly made fries. Why eat something you have to disguise the taste of? I never understood people who pile so many condiments on that they can no longer taste the food they are eating. Condiments should be used in modest amounts to enhance the flavor, not to be the flavor. A dab of ketchup is fine but if ketchup is all you can taste why bother with the fries? Ke

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @07:15AM (#54005367) Journal

    Like others who posted here, I'm very disappointed that the "CubeSat" is, in fact, not a "Sat" (Satellite) but just a dummy test environment here on plain old Earth. I guess it would have been nice to think that they had launched the thing into orbit (like on that 100+ satellite carrying Indian rocket) but I guess the cost and difficulty of making it space worthy (let alone human-spaceflight worthy to be sent to the ISS) was far greater than the budget of this marketing stunt. (And it was a stunt, as other posters have mentioned they eliminated so many of the bio-hazardous ingredients known to be on Mars, the soil was hardly an analog of Martian soil.)

    However, this stupid marketing stunt did remind me of one thing that really needs to be examined, how does GRAVITY and the (partial) lack thereof affect our LONG-TERM prospects in space and throughout the solar system? Because except for maybe the clouds of Venus (and Saturn!) there will not be anywhere else in the solar system where we can find a remotely habitable environment that shares 1G. Will humans be able to become pregnant, bring babies to term, give birth and have them develop normally in a non-1G environment? If not in zero G what about on the moon (1/3 G) or Mars (1/6 G)? That is a huge question for which there has been no definitive research because it is very hard (impossible?) to mimic a less than 1G environment (even if you float an animal its internal organs are still subjected to 1G).

    So what to do? Well I heard there WAS a plan to put a large centrifuge on the space station which could simulate various G levels for long periods of time. If so, while I'm sure it wouldn't have been large enough for humans to use (without massive disorientation due to the short radius), it would've been fine for mice and other small animal studies. This would've given us CRITICAL information on whether mammals at least would be able to reproduce on the moon or mars.

    Without this data, the first colonists to go to the Moon and Mars are taking a tremendous risk with their most precious of possessions, their descendants. Unfortunately, their experiment (using their own families as subjects) and pioneering this new biological frontier could end in a terrible tragedy not just for them but for mankind.

    • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

      Their "CubeSat" is just a glovebox. Dishonest.

    • >this stupid marketing stunt did remind me of one thing that really needs to be examined, how does GRAVITY and the (partial) lack thereof affect our LONG-TERM prospects in space and throughout the solar system?

      Yep. We have lots of data on 1G and a lot on ~0G, but nothing significant on 0.16g (the Moon) or 0.38g (Mars).

      That's why I'd really like to see us send a couple of experiment modules to Mars to see a few generations of mice and a few generations of plants under low-g.

    • Will humans be able to become pregnant, bring babies to term, give birth

      IANAScientist, but I guess that less than 50% of humans will.

    • Why invest in a centrifuge? Start by keeping mice on the ISS for a few generations (a few years) in zero G. If they do OK in zero G, then they'll probably do OK in anything from zero to one.

  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @07:53AM (#54005441)

    It gets too cold to grow stuff on Mars.
    You'd have to have a heated, pressurized greenhouse.

  • Can is one thing. Does is another.

  • I already the book where a stranded guy grew potatos on Mars. The hard part is pooping enough to fertilise them all.

  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @09:28AM (#54005789) Journal

    School Children in the year 2200 will probably be reading about the Martian Potato famine.

  • Scientists and engineers at Lays Potato Chips are busy designing the first modular ETPCMM--Extra Terrestrial Potato Chip Maker Module as a proof-of-concept; that a regular astronaut can subsist on a diet of Potato chips, without soda, and without TV, but with a makeshift recliner.

  • we can make... TOTS! Gosh!
  • While we're on the subject, ambient UV on Mars is probably bad for living things too...
  • by IWantMoreSpamPlease ( 571972 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @10:21AM (#54006095) Homepage Journal

    that the "International Potato Center" is a real thing.

  • In an effort to increase revenues and promote tourism on Mars - NASA will open Potato City amusement park.

    For those who don't have children or haven't watched Peppa Pig....
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • Perfect for Russians who can eat potatoes and drink potato vodka, they like the color red too so red planet is perfect

  • able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilized Earth soil

    That's all. Hardly anything, really. Earth soil is in PLENTIFUL supply... on Mars. So basically potatoes WILL grow on Mars, provided you don't grow them in 100% Martian soil. Just order some Earth soil via Amazon I hear they have a special deal for delivery if you're a Prime member.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
    Potatoes are all you need!

    Speaking of which, how many potatoes does it take to starve an Irishman? None!

  • We don't call it terra-forming anymore... We call it potato-forming.

  • I'm extremely skeptical that plants can grow at mars surface pressure, and the website has no data whatsoever. I had hope that someone would have actual info about what they were doing, but I guess I'm thinking of an older version of slashdot.

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