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Potatoes Could Be Grown on Mars


In this March 16, 2017 photo, Peruvian scientist David Ramirez points to a potato plant in a simulator akin to a Mars' conditions, in Lima Peru. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)


In the 2015 film “The Martian,” Matt Damon’s character is a scientist left behind on Mars.

He has limited food supplies and not much water. He tries to figure out how to survive so he can be rescued.

Luckily, he knows how to grow things. And one of the things he grows is a potato plant.

A year later, scientists in Peru and NASA scientists in California started working together on growing potatoes in a harsh location similar to Mars.

They built a container where they could simulate the conditions on Mars. The salty soil came from the southern coast of Peru, where there is very little rain.

Inside the “Mars-in-a-box,” the scientists made the air pressure similar to what it is like at 6,000-meters, decreased the temperature below zero, and added carbon monoxide to the air.

They made a lighting system that followed Mars’ daytime and nighttime.

They planted 65 types of potato plants, and waited. After a while, four of them grew.

Later, the scientists took the strongest of the four plants and tried again. This time, they used crushed rocks instead of soil.

The plant still grew.

Why is the research being done in Peru?

You may not know that Peru is known as the birthplace of potato farming. People grew potatoes there about 7,000 years ago. Even in cold, barren parts of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, potatoes still grow.

There is also a potato research center, called the International Potato Center, in the capital city, Lima.

In this March 16, 2017 photo, a potato plant grows inside a Mars simulator in Lima, Peru. The simulator mimicks the harsh conditions found on Mars. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
In this March 16, 2017 photo, a potato plant grows inside a Mars simulator in Lima, Peru. The simulator mimicks the harsh conditions found on Mars. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

The surviving potato in the Mars-in-a box is known as Unique.

It can still grow in freezing climates with high amounts of carbon dioxide.

The research is not only for a trip to Mars one day.

It is going to help feed people in parts of the world that are already having trouble planting traditional crops due to climate change.

The work is not yet done.

The scientists in Peru and California will try to grow more plants in even more difficult conditions.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on an Associated Press report. Hai Do was the editor.

Will we one day grow potatoes on Mars? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

character - n. a person who appears in a story, plkay or movie

simulate - v. look feel or behave like (something)

carbon monoxide - n. a poisonous gas that is formed when carbon is not completely burned

barren - adj. not suitable for plants

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