Plants Grown in Mars-Simulated Soil Are Safe to Eat

Friday, 24 June 2016 - 2:35PM
Mars
Friday, 24 June 2016 - 2:35PM
Plants Grown in Mars-Simulated Soil Are Safe to Eat
We've just scienced the sh*t out of this. After a few failed attempts, scientists have officially pulled a Mark Watney and grown edible crops in Mars-simulated soil.



Back in March, scientists led by ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research Centre grew ten different crops in Mars-simulated soil, including tomato, rye, radish, pea, leek, spinach, garden rocket, cress, quinoa, and chive. The experiment was a success in the sense that the output was almost as high as Earth soil, but since they grew in elements like lead, mercury, and arsenic that are toxic to humans, they weren't actually edible. Now, Wamelink and his colleagues have perfected their procedure for growing these plants, and some of the most recent crops showed "no dangerous levels" of heavy metals. 

Opening quote
"These remarkable results are very promising," said Wamelink. "We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes, and I am very curious what they will taste like."
Closing quote

This is very exciting, although there are a few caveats. First, it seems that no one has actually eaten the crops yet, so although they have been deemed safe to eat, they haven't been tested as a food source. Second, while the soil was mixed by NASA to simulate the soil composition on Mars, the conditions didn't simulate any of the other harsh conditions on Mars, such as cosmic radiation, extremely high temperatures, or extremely low temperatures (although the researchers claim that astronauts would likely grow their crops in a sealed-off room).

But most of all, much more research needs to be done in order to determine exactly which crops can be grown in this soil without absorbing the heavy metals. While the four aforementioned vegetables have been tested, further study needs to be done on the remaining six crops that have already been grown in the soil, as well as other crops that would be essential to human survival (like Mark Watney's potatoes). NASA is planning a Mars mission within the next couple of decades, and while Wamelink and his colleagues are crowdfunding in order to continue their research, we still have a long way to go before we're ready to put down stakes in the Red Planet.

Opening quote
"It's important to test as many crops as possible, to make sure that settlers on Mars have access to a broad variety of different food sources," said Wamelink.
Closing quote


Via The Guardian

Science
Space
Mars

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