Numerous studies suggest that Mars has promising features which may support life. The recent sci-fi movie, The Martian, even made Matt Damon grow potatoes on the Earth's neighboring planet. Conversely, scientists have been studying this idea for quite a while.
The interior of the experimental case where rice seeds are kept in space. (c) Asahi
Japanese and Russian experts are conducting researches about the probability of growing crops on Mars.
To learn how storage in outer space could affect the crops, researchers at Okayama University exposed the rice grains to the space environment. They also studied the plants' germination rate kept at the International Space Station (ISS).
Manabu Sugimoto, an associate professor of extreme environment breeding at the university’s Institute of Plant Science and Resources, worked with the Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, to send 100 grains of brown rice to ISS in April 2011.
When the seeds reached the ISS in August 2011, they were kept in a metal case placed outside the station. Though the case protected the grains from ultraviolet light, other cosmic rays can still pass through the container.
The grains were exposed to extremely harsh conditions for plants on Earth, such as, intense temperature between 90 degrees and minus 20 degrees. The grains were also subjected to gravity and degree of vacuum that were almost the same as in outer space.
ISS where the grains were stored for studies (c) NASA
After 13 months, half of the grains was gathered. While the other half was collected after 20 months. Both groups of seeds were subjected to tests to know their germination rate, and if there were genetic mutations.
After the tests, the experts learned that the germination rate for brown rice kept in space for 13 months was 48 percent, while it was 7 percent for the grains stored for 20 months.
Though the rice grains stored for 20 months showed a 50 percent decrease of mRNA associated with protein synthesis, both remaining groups of seeds sprouted successfully, and had no gene anomalies.
Sugimoto said when he talked about the experiment they did on barley seeds that had no changes in the germination rate nor genetic mutations after being stored in space for 18 months in an interview
, “the findings mean the effects of exposure to the space environment differ, depending on the species of plants.”
So when will we hear about the tests on potatoes? Matt Damon must have been thinking about it.