Good news for any humans who eventually land on Mars: you might not have to grow potatoes in your own poo.
Although you can. Mark Watney held his breakfast down long enough to sprout spuds in “The Martian”, and Dr Michael Shara, curator at the American Museum of Natural History, told the New York Post potatoes were “the most bang for your buck in terms of calories”.
But a team of researchers in The Netherlands have just raised a much more appealing crop of tomato, rye, radish, pea, leek, spinach, garden rocket, cress, quinoa and chives – in Martian soil.
It’s not soil from Mars, clearly, but NASA provided the sample from a Hawaiian volcano, along with a sample matching lunar soil from a desert in Arizona.
The team, from Wageningen University, has previously tried raising the crops in the soil alone, and failed.
This time around, they added an extra ingredient – fresh-cut grass.
With the grass added structure and fertiliser to the soil, they managed to raise a crop in the Martian soil as good as any raised in regular compost material. The lunar soil crop was only about half as successful, but still yielded produce.
Team member Dr Wieger Wamelink said the crops were grown in underground rooms, as they would be on Mars to protect “the plants from the hostile environment including cosmic radiation”.
There was only one problem – the crops could be grown, but not eaten, as the soil contained too much lead, arsenic and mercury.
The next experiment aims to make the food safe to eat, and you can have a chance to be a test subject by helping fund it here.
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