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Researchers Successfully Grow Vegetables In Martian Soil

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Craig Boudreau Vice Reporter
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Researchers for the Netherland-based MarsOne have successfully grown vegetables in simulated martian soil.

Working with ecologists and crop scientists from Wageningen University and Research Center, MarsOne was able to successfully grow peas, tomatoes, radishes, potatoes, green beans and carrots, according to a piece published by Universe Today Sunday.

The soil is from La Joya Pampas, which, according to the researchers, has a composition similar to martian soil, and is taking place at Lima’s International Potato Center (CIP).

“We had crops and harvested them, tomatoes, rye grains, radish, rocket, cress, but did not taste them yet,” lead ecologist Dr. Wieger Wamelink told Gizmodo Friday. “First we have to make sure that it is safe to eat them because of the heavy metals that are present in the soils and may end up in the plants.”

The team notes martian soil is laced with heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, and iron, and feared food grown in the soil would soak up some of the heavy metals and make it unsafe for human consumption. “We now tested four species [radishes, peas, rye, and tomatoes] we harvested last year as a preliminary investigation and it shows that luckily there are no harmful quantities present in the fruits,” Wamelink told Universe Today. “So it is safe to eat them.”

Not only did they test within safe levels, some of the vegetables were actually found to have lower levels of heavy metals than those grown in store-bought potting soil.

MarsOne has a stated goal of establishing a permanent settlement on Mars. It believes the Mars missions are akin to the Apollo missions of the 60s and 70s.

“Human settlement on Mars will aid the understanding of the origins of the solar system, the origins of life, and human’s place in the universe,” the MarsOne “about” section states. “As with the Apollo Moon landings, a human mission to Mars will inspire generations to believe that all things are possible and that anything can be achieved with perseverance.”

Wamelink says seed-to-harvest crops are only the beginning, and he hopes to start experimenting with crops that aren’t picked annually, like fruit trees. Wamelink also says he hopes to replace meat in potential astronaut diets with lupine, a bean that is high in protein and has already been tapped for its potential to replace meat in certain impoverished parts of the world.

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Craig Boudreau