Martian soil may have all the necessary nutrients for growing rice, one of mankind’s most important food products, planetary scientist Abhilash Ramachandran announced on March 13 at a conference on the study of the Moon and the planet. However, the plant may need a little help to survive among perchlorate, a chemical that can be toxic to plants and has been found on the surface of Mars.
“We want to send people to Mars… but we can’t take everything there. It’s going to be expensive,” says Ramachandran of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Growing rice there would be ideal because it’s easy to cook, he says. “You just peel off the husks and start cooking.”
Ramachandran and his colleagues grew rice plants in Martian soil simulators , made from basalt of the Mojave Desert. They also grew rice in pure potting mix, as well as several mixtures of potting mix and soil simulant. All pots were watered once or twice a day.
The team discovered that the rice plants did indeed grow in the synthetic Martian dirt. However, the plants developed thinner shoots and thinner roots than the plants that germinated from the potting mix and the hybrid soil. They found that even replacing just 25 percent of the simulant with potting mix helped the piles.
The researchers also tried growing rice in soil with added perchlorate. They bred one wild rice variety and two genetically mutated varieties—modified for resistance to environmental factors such as drought—and grew them in Martian mud with and without perchlorate.
No rice plants grew at a concentration of 3 grams of perchlorate per kilogram of soil. But when the concentration was just 1 gram per kilogram, one of the mutant lines grew both a shoot and a root, while the wild variety managed to grow a root.
The obtained data indicate that, using a modified gene of a successful mutant, SnRK1a humans will eventually be able to breed a rice variety suitable for Mars.