Veggies Grown on Mars May Actually Be Healthier for Us
Buying organic produce is something that many health enthusiasts take very seriously. In the future, however, there may be another option that health enthusiasts will be able to take advantage of — healthier produce and plant-based foods that have been grown on Mars.
No, it’s not a trend inspired by the movie “The Martian” where Matt Damon cleverly figures out how to grow potatoes to survive on the red planet. And yes, it could be very real someday.
Scientists at the Wageningen University and Research Centre have been working on growing 10 different edible plant species in soil that has been replicated to match the mineral composition of Martian soil, and so far, the results are looking good.
The big experiment kicked off in 2013, but some of the plants haven’t been fully tested by tasting them because they have to be safe enough to consume. The findings for four plant foods — radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes — have just recently been released.
The harvested plants were tested for their heavy metals like iron, lead, chrome, aluminum, nickel, copper and cadmium. Concentrations were found to be low enough that scientists deemed them safe enough to eat.
What’s even more interesting is that some of the plants contained even lower traces of heavy metals than their Earth-grown counterparts harvested from regular potting soil. Out of the plants that have been fully tested so far, radishes were found to have tested highest for heavy metals while the peas and tomatoes contained the lowest concentrations.
The scientists aren’t sure why some of the Martian-simulated plants showed lower concentrations than comparable Earth-grown ones. Likewise, they can’t know whether the plants’ uptake of heavy metals will be similar to that of Earth or if the lower gravity on Mars might change that. We’ll only find out when the experiment advances further enough that scientists can try actually growing them there.
In addition to heavy metal testing, the scientists say they also plan to examine the plants’ nutritional content — including vitamins, flavonoids and the alkaloids. These variables affect taste and toxicity of the plants.
Potatoes, carrots, garden cress and spinach are some of the other plant species to test as the scientists move forward. For the next phase of the experiment, they’ve turned to crowdfunding.
So far, the experiment is about 51 percent funded with two more months to go to get to its goal of 25,000 Euros. Backers will receive a gift in thanks for their contribution — one of which is a free meal with the potatoes that were grown in the Mars-simulated soil for whoever is feeling generous enough to donate 500 Euros.
While the results of the simulation experiment are fascinating, there’s still a long way to go, so don’t expect to be seeing Martian produce in your grocery stores anytime soon. Even when scientists are able to shuttle crops into outer space toward Mars to be grown them there, there are still a lot of other obvious problems that they’ll need to tackle — like lack of water, lack of oxygen and solar radiation.
So maybe we won’t get to eat real Martian vegetables in our lifetime if this experiment has to get to the point where we’ve literally got safe-to-eat produce growing on Mars and a crazy efficient shipping route through space somehow bringing them back to Earth in a reasonable amount of time before they go bad, but it’s neat to think that maybe our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren might get to experience it. Who knows?
Photo Credit: Mark Ireland