A new study presented at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference suggests that genetically modified rice could be a food source for the first Martian colonists. This discovery could be a game-changer in the pursuit of a human settlement on Mars.
Given that Mars is at least seven months’ journey from Earth across 300 million miles / 480 million kilometers, and that the planets only come close together every two years or so, the first humans to live on Mars would need to grow their own food. . Unfortunately, Martian soil contains perchlorate salts that are toxic to plants, making it difficult to grow food.
To simulate the soil of Mars, scientists from the University of Arkansas used basalt-rich soil mined in the Mojave Desert, which was developed by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They cultivated three types of rice in the soil, including one wild strain and two genetically modified strains that were better adapted to drought, lack of sugar, and saline conditions. They also grew the same three strains in potting soil and a mixture of the two.
The team found that GM rice grows well in simulating Martian soil if one-fourth of it is potted soil. They also discovered that three grams of perchlorate per kilogram of soil is the limit any rice strain can grow in.
This discovery could have implications far beyond Mars, as it could prove useful in regions on Earth where soils have a high salt content. The team proposes using Earth as a terrestrial counterpart before sending seeds to Mars.
The team’s next step is to experiment with simulations of newly developed Martian soil and other strains of rice. Next, they plan to develop a Mars simulation chamber that simulates the temperature and atmosphere of the Red Planet.
This breakthrough could be instrumental in achieving the goal of colonizing Mars and providing a sustainable food source for future Martian settlers.
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