Can Terrestrial Crops Grow on Mars?

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25 November 2023 - In an experiment by A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Biodiversity Medicine (BD-MED), researchers are experimenting with growing plants in regular soil against Mars simulant soil. Their exhibit is part of the “Mars: The Red Mirror" exhibition held at the ArtScience Museum. At the scientific symposium on 25 November, Dr Roy Ang (GIS’ Scientist from Laboratory of Biodiversity Genomics) shared the stepping-stone research that scientists are undertaking to advance understanding of what it takes to grow crops on Mars.

This plant experiment is an initiative by Space Faculty and is jointly prepared by scientists at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Biodiversity Medicine (BD-MED).

A key factor to sustaining human life on Mars is the ability to grow and produce food on the Red Planet. Data from NASA’s Curiosity rover has provided us with an understanding of Martian soil and has enabled scientific organisations to produce Mars simulant soil – Mars Global Simulant (MGS-1), a mineralogical standard analog. MGS-1 is made by sourcing a spectrum of terrestrial minerals and mixing them together in specific proportions to generally replicate the Martian surface.

In this exhibit, the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and common vegetable crop ‘Kailan’ Brassica sp. are grown in two different soils: Earth soil, and Mars simulant soil – supplemented with fertilizer solution. Fertilizer supplementation in Martian simulants is necessary for plant growth due to a lack of key plant nutrients. Experiments such as these not only help scientists understand how life on Mars could work, but may also have implications for life on Earth as our environment changes.

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