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Spudnik 1: 'super potato' can grow in Mars soil

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A potato plant grows inside a Mars simulator in Lima, Peru (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

A potato plant grows inside a Mars simulator in Lima, Peru (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

AP

A potato plant grows inside a Mars simulator in Lima, Peru (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Scientists have found a "unique" potato variety that could survive and thrive in the extreme environment of Mars.

Scientists in Lima, Peru, have grown a potato in frigid, high carbon dioxide surroundings.

It is still in the early stages, but researchers at the International Potato Centre believe the initial results are a promising indicator that potatoes might one day be harvested under conditions as hostile as those on Mars.

It's an experiment straight out of the 2015 Hollywood movie 'The Martian', starring Matt Damon, in which fictional astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and tries to survive by growing the root vegetable.

The findings could benefit not only future Mars exploration, but also arid regions feeling the impact of climate change.

"It's not only about bringing potatoes to Mars, but also finding a potato that can resist non-cultivable areas on Earth," said Julio Valdivia, an astrobiologist at Peru's University of Engineering and Technology who is working with Nasa on the project. The experiment began in 2016 - a year after 'The Martian' hit cinema screens. Peruvian scientists built a simulator with sub-zero temperatures, high carbon dioxide concentrations, the air pressure found at 19,700ft altitude and a system of lights imitating the Martian day and night.

International Potato Centre researchers transported 1,540lb of soil to Lima, planted 65 varieties and waited. In the end, just four sprouted from the soil. In a second stage, scientists planted one of the most robust varieties in the even more extreme conditions of the simulator.

The winning potato is a variety called Unique.

"It's a 'super potato' that resists very high carbon dioxide conditions and temperatures that get to freezing," Mr Valdivia said. Nasa has been doing experiments on agriculture, for use on spacecraft and perhaps on Mars.

Irish Independent