Echoing the recent film The Martian, which sees an astronaut grow potatoes to feed himself after he is stranded on the red planet, NASA scientists will experiment with growing potatoes under Mars-like conditions.
As well as testing whether human colonies would be able to grow their own crops on other planets, the research will have applications for growing food in harsh conditions here on Earth.
The experiment, led by the International Potato Centre (CIP) and NASA, is a step towards building a controlled dome on Mars capable of farming the hardy crop.
“How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago?” Joel Ranck from CIP said.
“We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth.”
The goal is to raise awareness around the resilience of potatoes, and fund further research and farming in devastated parts of the world where malnutrition and poverty are rife.
Project leader Will Rust from Memac Ogilvy Dubai said the idea could be the answer to global hunger.
By using soils almost identical to those found on Mars, sourced from the Pampas de La Joya Desert in Peru, the teams will replicate Martian atmospheric conditions in a laboratory.
The increased levels of carbon dioxide will benefit the crop of potatoes, whose yield is two to four times that of a regular grain crop under normal Earth conditions.
The Martian atmosphere is almost 95 per cent carbon dioxide.
CIP said potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, iron, and zinc, they contain critical micronutrients missing in vulnerable communities globally.
The project’s science team leader Julio E. Valdivia-Silva said he was excited by the idea of spuds on Mars.
“I am excited to put potatoes on Mars and even more so that we can use a simulated Martian terrain so close to the area where potatoes originated,” he said.