Good News! It Looks Like We Can Grow Potatoes on Mars

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 8, 2017 2:35 pm


A project attempting to grow potatoes in Mars-like conditions has reported positive preliminary results.

Based in Lima, Peru, the International Potato Center (CIP) is dedicated to collecting and altering potato varieties found around the world. The CIP began as an effort to alleviate global hunger by introducing special strains of the hardy vegetable to places with arid soils and harsh environments. As researchers have begun experimenting with earthly technologies in a bid to extend our reach beyond the planet, CIP has added experiments testing hardy types of potato in near-Martian conditions.

Finding Mars on Earth

Using a customized CubeSat, CIP scientists designed a hermetic environment that recreates conditions a plant might find upon bursting through the Martian soil. It’s essentially Mars in a box, and the researchers have established Martian temperatures, air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels inside.

Potatoes were chosen both for their hardiness and genetic adaptability in the face of hardships, CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros said in a statement. The center also distributes unique varieties of potato to communities around the world located in areas not well suited to crop growth. A standout from the Martian experiments was a variety already grown in Bangladesh and adapted to salty environments and abiotic stressors. Further improvements based on their work in harsh Martian conditions will also be useful for terrestrial crops, as well.

“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,” Amoros said.

To check up on the intrepid potato plants, or just spend a few hours watching plants grow, you can watch the experiment live from the Potato Center via a webcam, below:

A Little Bit of Mars

Last year, CIP attempted to grow potatoes in the closest analogue to Martian soil they could find on Earth: dirt from the arid Pampas de La Joya desert in Peru. The soil there is both dry and salty, similar to soil the plants would encounter on Mars. They succeeded, although the experiment needed a little help from some Earth soil and fertilizers to succeed. The Martian-like soil didn’t have the necessary consistency for the potatoes to tuberize, or begin to grow, and there weren’t enough nutrients for them to prosper.

However, these experiments give hope to would-be Martian farmers, because they’ve proven that, with a little help, Martian soil could sustain Earth life. And although researchers are aiming for the stars, their work will also help fill bellies right here at home.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    Try it again after loading the soil with iron oxides and specifically perchlorate salts. “with a little help” With a complete remake including solar hard UV and average 1/(1.524)² = 43% of terrestrial insolation.

    their work will also help fill bellies right here at home” Proxy Hibernian terrorists stealing Peruvian biodiversity require reparations. All Irish will be relocated to Peru, there to labor without compensation until the royalty debt is repaid in current value Peruvian Nuevo Soles.

    • OWilson

      The first thing we would need on this virgin planet would be an Administration Center to resolve all human disputes.

      No sense in making the same human mistakes there, and killing that planet too!

      No religions, no private property, one acceptable sustainable diet – potatoes but no fries, no pollution, no unauthorized population expansion (marriage or pregnancy), no money, just one common goal: to survive as a community.

      Of course there would have to be folks in charge to oversee and enforce the regulations.

      Hey, if it works in North Korea, it would work there!

      • Uncle Al

        Begin terraforming by purging the hater name “Mars.” It is the Democratic People’s Republic of Exemplary Labour. Agricultural shock brigades are forbidden from eating State property potatoes beyond ration. Pink Pußy hats are mandatory. Only Beloved Leader breeds, and at will.

        Regolith perchlorate will be voluntarily gathered into a vast Socialist People’s Undying Defense launched at Earth.

        • RebelSoldier

          If the moderator started erasing the joke comments we could have a scientific discussion. We don’t need a laugh track to our science. This isn’t American TV here.

          • Uncle Al

            One cannot separate technology, the history it creates, and contingent criminal abuses of Church, State, and “more studies are needed.”

            Import potatoes, European poverty population explodes. Import potato pathogen, starving Irish invade the New World. What fled the Pope and his Church of Horrors to brighten western civilization is successfully invaded by Vatican reproductive warriors. The US never learns.

          • OWilson

            Oh, I forgot!

            “No mocking, satirizing, or inappropriate smiling of the New World Order allowed!”

            “Watch the Dear Leader, he will show you when it is appropriate to smile, or applaud”.

            New World Orders are serious stuff indeed!

            “This is the DPREL, NOT America!”

        • Erik Bosma

          So we get a few astronomers on our side and we change Mars’ name to Heaven. If they can demote Pluto they can do whatever they want, it appears. Then we buy some old Space Shuttles at rock bottom prices and hold an X Press trip to Heaven. The price will be “All Your Earthly Possessions”. Then we just send ’em that-away with a load of picks and shovels in the hold (do SS’s have holds?). Hey, you gotta die before you get to Heaven, correct? And if they make it we put them to work terraforming ‘Heaven’.

  • Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley

    Just make sure some Irish folk are on the first flight, they can grow potatoes anywhere.

    • MJO3

      Only Irish astronauts the first few decades

  • Erik Bosma

    If we can grow cacao on Mars and then process them into chocolate and then press that chocolate into bars then we could grow Mars Bars. Hahaha… I am so hilarious!!!

  • pres1dentkang .

    The video clearly shows dripping water. Sorry, but that water would sublimate rapidly at Martian air pressure. And plants are surviving the -130°C nighttime temperatures? The EUV?


    First potato famines in Ireland, now potatoes on Mars, well never, wonders never cease.

  • Doc2222

    Well, duh…didn’t Matt Damon already prove this?

    • Travis Simbulan

      “With a little help” from his friends. (insert poop emoji).

  • william boydston

    Good. Can we send everyone in Idaho there?

  • FredPierre

    “May I take your order? The Special tonight is new potatoes. We’re also offering a discount on the French Fry plate, and the scalloped potato casserole was made fresh today.” – Eating out on Mars

    • Uncle Al

      ¡Pommes frites no! ¡Freedom Fries, sí!

  • RebelSoldier

    Fascinating. So I’m thinking I read that in the latest attempt with the right potato species or strain they could grow in Martian “soil” if someone was around to water them. Finding or creating water chemically on the red planet would be the key. And then creating potato strains just as hardy but which carried both different flavors (there is a plant I grew that tasted like oysters when boiled) and different vitamin and mineral, protein and fat and fiber ratios. Then of course we would want to grow a grain on Mars. Man can’t live by taters alone. Could corn be grown? There are hundred of indigenous strains of Maize in Central America. Now we know why scientists want to save all that genetic variety. A strain of corn, several potato varieties, onions and peppers and some kind of greens and we have begun real farming. Soybeans would free us from animal husbandry which in any case would not be feasible when everything you could eat has to be fed to an animal so you can have roast pork or hen once a year, But the magic would begin when you can find a plant that can grow wild on Mars and “find” its own water.

  • RebelSoldier

    Reading these comments and I understand better the American system of government. It’s all a joke for the shallow minded at the expense of everyone. You print fascinating research results and Americans aren’t interested. Are their lives that stupid. Are they that miserable in their jobs or retirements. Sorry I’ve always been a slapper not a smiler hiding their thoughts.

    • Brad

      What superior country do you reside in?

  • Ansel_Adams

    I call BS on this. Show me a potato growing in an atmosphere with a pressure of .087psi and I will eat the dirt it is planted in. At .087psi the seed potato would turn into a freeze dried nugget even if all the other “Martian conditions” were optimal. Give it all the sunlight you want, plant it in potting soil, and your freeze dried potato still won’t grow.

    • davidstrail

      They’re not saying you can grow one outside on mars. They’re saying you can grow one in the martian soil.

      • Ansel_Adams

        “Using a customized CubeSat, CIP scientists designed a hermetic environment that recreates conditions a plant might find upon bursting through the Martian soil. It’s essentially Mars in a box, and the researchers have established Martian temperatures, air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels inside.”

        • davidstrail

          Ah failure in reading :)

    • OWilson

      But if the potato is transmitted at warp speed, though a wormhole, with a boost from a black hole, it could approach the speed of light.

      Catch up with it and you would have an infinite amount of mashed potatoes.

      Repeat with a chuck roast and the brave new denizens tof a terraformed new Mars would never go hungry!

      Add a 3d Printer, AI, and you can replicate every object on earth without that nasty manufacturing pollution!

  • Mike Richardson

    Potatoes are a good start. Wheat and soybeans would provide even more options, and should be suitable for cultivation in a similar controlled environment.


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