A new collaborative project between the International Potato Center (CIP) and NASA will see a crop of potatoes grown on Earth under the same conditions found on the Red Planet. The effort is not only a big step towards the goal of one day constructing a controlled farming dome on Mars, but will also demonstrate the potential of growing potatoes in inhospitable environments back home – something that the researchers hope will help tackle world hunger.

If mankind is ever to establish a colony on Mars, it'll first have to work out how to create a sustainable food source. We've seen proposals in the past that aim to test whether crops will grow on the Red Planet, but a lot more work needs to be done before a viable solution emerges.

To prepare for the inevitably tricky endeavour, Peru-based research and development organization CIP is planning on conducting a dry run back home. The team will use soil from the Pampas de La Joya Desert in Peru, which is almost identical to that found on Mars. The researchers will grow the crop in a laboratory environment that mimics the atmospheric conditions of the Red Planet, where the atmosphere is close to 95 percent carbon dioxide.

Quite aside from being a great way to start preparing for the challenges of growing crops on a different planet, the project is also designed to have an impact back home, raising awareness of the impressive resilience of potatoes.

More than 842 million people are currently affected by famine around the globe. The team believes that potatoes' ability to grow in even the most inhospitable of climates makes them the ideal contender to put a real dent in that number. Furthermore, they're not just good at growing under difficult conditions, but also provide extremely high yields (two to four times that of a regular grain crop) and are extremely nutritious, being a good source of iron, zinc, vitamin C, and more.

"How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago?" asks CIP's Joel Ranck. "We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth."

Source: CIP