Mark Watney wasn’t wrong: Researchers discover potatoes really can grow on Mars

potatoes on mars matt damon martian
Just a few things kept Mark Watney alive in The Martian — resourcefulness, wit, and a handful of spuds. Without all three, he probably wouldn’t have survived.

Now, preliminary results from research at the International Potato Center (CIP) suggests that, if an astronaut does find herself stranded on Mars, she’d at least be able to propagate potatoes in Mars-like conditions.

Dubbed Potatoes on Mars, this phase of the initiative has been a yearlong project conducted by CIP, NASA, and the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima, Peru, where scientists have tried to determine the extreme conditions in which tubers can grow.

Planting specially bred tubers in Martian-like soil in a hermetically sealed “CubeSat,” the researchers subjected the crop to conditions similar to those found on the Red Planet, including air pressure and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the plant wasn’t otherwise forced to suffer — water and fertilized Earth soil provided additional nutrients and structure. Throughout the process, sensors monitored the conditions and cameras live-streamed the growth for impatient botanists.

Eventually, the potato sprouted. The scientists concluded that Mars missions will want to prepare soil with plenty of nutrients and a loose structure to enable the sufficient flow of air and water.

To be sure, as The Martian author, Andy Weir, pointed out to Engadget, scientists already knew potatoes could grow in Mars-like conditions — this experiment just pushed the limits a bit further.

The research shows promise for future astronauts and for people here on Earth, where there is concern that climate change may be threatening smallholder farmers with food scarcity.

“The International Potato Center, through its breeding program, is constantly seeking potatoes with better attributes that will help farmers in the poorer areas, potatoes that produce in extreme conditions of heat, drought and other biotic and abiotic stresses,” CIP potato breeder, Walter Amoros, told Digital Trends.

“Looking at our ‘Potatoes for Mars’ work, the idea is for us to test these genetic materials under extreme soil conditions with high concentrations of salts and oxidizing compounds that impede the development of any plant crop,” he added. “The identification of a potato variety that can tolerate these extreme conditions, will definitely mean that we have found a variety that can be used anywhere on Earth where there are extreme biotic and abiotic stress conditions, and such a variety will make it possible for us to alleviate poverty, improve food security, and adapt more easily to climate change.”

Emerging Tech

Here’s how the InSight mission to Mars will confirm its landing to NASA

NASA's InSight mission has sent a lander to Mars. NASA researchers have now shared details on how they will monitor the touching down of the lander at the end of its 91 million mile journey.
Emerging Tech

Ancient crater the size of NYC discovered under the Greenland ice sheet

A huge crater has been discovered beneath the ice of Greenland, and is thought to be the result of a meteorite impact millions of years ago. The crater is one of the largest ever discovered, measuring 19 miles across.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.
Emerging Tech

DJI Mavic 2 Pro vs Mavic 2 Zoom: What’s the real difference?

DJI's Mavic 2 series drones are ready to fly -- but which one is right for you? The Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are nearly identical save for their cameras. Here's what you need to know about these powerful new UAVs.
Emerging Tech

This startup will sequence your entire genome for free — but there’s a catch

Want to get your DNA sequenced but don’t want to shell out the hundred bucks or so to do so? A new startup called Nebula Genomics offers you the opportunity to have it done for free.
Emerging Tech

Students who designed transforming smart home will compete in Solar Decathalon

Modular smart homes are all the rage, and now some students from Virginia Tech are putting their money on their FutureHAUS, a modular, solar-powered, transforming smart home they're taking to the Solar Decathlon in Dubai.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best tech gear and gadgetry that survived Shark Tank

The television show "Shark Tank" has churned out quite a few strange, interesting, and downright awesome products -- so we rounded up some of the best ones for your perusal. Enjoy!
Emerging Tech

Hotter than the sun: Chinese fusion reactor claims breakthrough

China’s “artificial sun” has reached a temperature of 180 million ºF with a heating power of 10 megawatts -- six times hotter than the center of the sun. The achievement could mark progress towards fusion as a clean energy source.
Emerging Tech

Hope it doesn’t melt! Rocket to ISS carries vital supplies — including ice cream

A rocket has launched over Virginia's eastern shore, carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Inside the spacecraft are supplies for the ISS itself and the crew onboard, such as scientific equipment and food.
Emerging Tech

‘Super-Earth’ discovered orbiting nearby star

Astronomers have discovered a large planet circling a sun nearby to Earth called Barnard's Star. The potential new planet is thought to be cold and icy and has a size of around 3.2 times the Earth.
Emerging Tech

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully tests its asteroid-sampling arm

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, launched in September 2016, is closing in on its target of the Bennu asteroid. The craft has now unfurled its robotic arm, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and tested it successfully.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s friendly new A.I wants to figure out what you want — before you ask

Move over Siri and Alexa! Microsoft wants to build a new type of virtual assistant that wants to be your friend. Already making waves in Asia, could this be the future of A.I. BFFs?
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!