An experiment devised by a 19-year-old girl who was in her sophomore year of high school when she began her research on the development of food systems on Mars shows that it may be possible to grow food in the red planet’s nutrient-poor soil.
Pooja Kasiviswanathan built her research over three years, finishing it during her senior year of high school. Now a third-year microbiology student at Iowa State University, she continues to explore this research in other ways.
Throughout the research, funded by Iowa State University scientist Dr. Vijayapalani Paramasivan, found that alfalfa and photosynthetic bacteria can promote traits that favor the growth and sustainability of agriculture. If this technique works on Mars, it could overcome the challenge of providing food to astronauts during human missions to space, an expectation that has been expanding and much discussed in recent years.
A study with the application of alfalfa in the soil may enable agriculture on Mars22. (Photo: Reproduction/Digital Look)
Soil treatment based on growing alfalfa irrigated with fresh water showed exponential growth in all three plants used in the test: turnips had a 190% increase in growth, radish biomass increased by 311% and lettuce increased by 79% compared to untreated simulated soil.
“The main idea behind this project is to be able to integrate two simulated Martian conditions, analyze the effect of these conditions on plant growth, and provide treatments for sustainable plant growth.”Pooja Kasiviswanathan told Forbes.
This is not the first time that scientists have simulated Martian soil to try to grow food. A paper published in 2019 described 10 different plants grown on land that simulated Martian soil and Moon soil, including: quinoa, radish, watercress, leeks, tomatoes, rye, peas, spinach, arugula and chives. What is known is that all but spinach had significant growth.
Featured photo: 19-year-old researcher who believes in the potential of her studies to make it possible to grow food on Mars. Disclosure/NASA.