(ORDO NEWS) — A team of researchers from Iowa State University has found that it is possible to successfully grow alfalfa on Mars.
As scientists around the world speculate not only about sending humans to Mars, but building shelters on the Red Planet, work continues on ways to make such projects possible.
Before these dreams become reality, many challenges must be overcome, including how to feed the people living so far away.
One option is to grow food inside protected enclosures. The buildings should imitate earthly conditions, since the plants that will be grown there will obviously be brought from Earth.
Growing plants on Mars will require a few basic elements – soil, water, food, and sunlight. In this new study, the researchers looked at the first two points.
Mars doesn’t have much to offer in terms of soil, but it does have basalt, a type of volcanic rock. There are few substances in basalt that could be used as food by plants, and it is stony, not clayey.
Thus, growing food will require not only changing the basalt, but also using plants that can grow in such conditions.
The researchers tried to grow several types of agricultural plants in finely ground basalt found on Earth. They found that plants such as turnips, lettuce and radishes do not grow well in basalt.
On the other hand, scientists have noticed that alfalfa does very well. The researchers also found that if they grew alfalfa in basalt and then planted other crops in the same soil, those crops grew much better. For example, turnip yields increased by 311%.
The scientists then turned their attention to water, which is very scarce on Mars. It is mainly found in the ice at the poles.
The water there is also very salty and therefore cannot be used for growing plants. To reduce the salinity of water samples on Earth, scientists have added bacteria known as Synechococcus, which can desalinate water.
Testing has shown that Synechococcus can significantly reduce the salt concentration, but the water will still be too salty for the plants.
The researchers then filtered a sample of water by pouring it over piles of basalt rocks and obtained fresh water that could be used to grow plants.
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