In the 2015 film "The Martian," Matt Damon plays a future scientist marooned on Mars who learns to grow potatoes in the red planet soil to survive. It turns out, that plot line might be an uncanny example of reality echoing fiction.
Scientists with the International Potato Center (CIP) recently launched a series of experiments to discover the viability of growing potatoes in Martian conditions. Surprisingly, they found that they could, in fact, be farmed on Mars, reports Phys.org.
But these experiments went far beyond what was depicted in the film. In the film, Damon's character grows his potatoes within a dome that mimics habitable conditions on Earth. For the CIP study, however, potatoes were grown under the atmospheric conditions of Mars, including Mars' air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. In other words, it's possible that these rugged crops could actually survive on Mars under open-air Martian conditions.
It's a surprising — and an exciting — find. It not only makes future Martian settlements more feasible, but the research could also help to feed us here on Earth by introducing these super-resilient potato varieties to desolate regions most altered by desertification and climate change.
"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," said CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros.
The potatoes were grown inside of a 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. Inside the containers, the conditions were carefully controlled to mimic Martian cycles of day and night, such as temperature and light. Nutrient-rich water did have to be added to the environment to get the potatoes to grow, but such water and nutrients could be gathered on Mars.
The potatoes used in the experiment were not your average tubers; they were genetically bred to tolerate extreme conditions. The soil also had to be specially prepped with a loose structure to allow the tubers to obtain enough air and water to tuberize. So the crop, if grown on Mars, would have to be well-maintained. Even so, it's an impressive find. Imagine agricultural zones on Mars, with rows and rows of potato plants.
So if having to give up french fries was your principal reason for not wanting to move to Mars, you no longer have to worry. Someday, fast-food restaurants might be as ubiquitous on Mars as they are here on Earth.