Scientists in Peru hope to grow Peruvian potatoes on Mars
The idea for the project came from researcher Julio Valdivia, who is conducting studies for NASA and found that the soil in an area in southern Peru is very similar to that of Mars, biologist David Ramirez told EFE.
The area is a desert in La Joya, located 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of Arequipa, where the soil is poor in nutrients, with a high salt content and as arid as on Mars, Ramirez said.
In addition to the soil's features, the project took off because Peru is Latin America's leading producer of potatoes, with 4.7 million tons of the tuber grown annually.
Peru has classified more than 4,000 native varieties of potatoes and the CIP keeps 4,500 varieties of potatoes and 7,000 varieties of "camote," or sweet potato, at its facilities, making it the world's largest collection.
Researchers have already identified genotypes for testing "improved variations" of some potatoes, and the next step will be to place the genotypes in controlled environments to observe their growth, the CIP's Jan Kreuze said.
The CIP says scientists need to find genotypes of potatoes "tolerant to periods of heat, cold and drought" for Mars.
The project is being financed by an anonymous donor, but NASA is providing logistical support to the CIP by designing nursery chambers that simulate conditions on Mars. ■