The idea of living in outer space has always fascinated people. However, settling on planets other than Earth, meeting physical needs and living futuristic lives only exists in fiction. Plenty of obstacles currently make this vision more of a fantasy than one of the near future.

Challenges for Living on the Red Planet

Outer space soil is unfit for growing crops to nourish the human body. Perchlorate salts in the soil on Mars have high levels of toxicity for plants. Luckily, the University of Arkansas may have found a solution to this problem through continuous experiments that recently yielded remarkable results. On April 26, the University of Arkansas published an official statement announcing a new finding—that rice could survive on the Red Planet.

Experiments Reinforce Possibility of Outer Space Farming

The research team’s experiments consisted of growing both standard and gene-edited types of rice into basaltic-rich soil to simulate Martian soil’s conditions. The gene-edited rice turned out to fare better in situations of drought, salinity and sugar starvation. However, all the rice types grew more, in combinations of both simulations of Martian soil and regular potting soil. This research was executed by Peter James Gann, a doctoral student in cell and molecular biology, Abhilash Ramachandran, a post-doctoral fellow at the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences, Yheni Dwiningsih, a post-doctoral associate in plant sciences and Dominic Dharwadker, an undergraduate student in the Honors College. These findings are yet another step toward making outer space farming a reality.

A recent study conducted by Iowa State University highlighted the potential of alfalfa as a viable plant for growth on Mars. Using Martian soil simulants similar to those employed by the University of Arkansas, the research focused on cultivating alfalfa without the use of genetically modified organisms or perchlorate. While the study suggested the feasibility of direct alfalfa cultivation on Mars, concerns were raised due to the omission of perchlorate salts, naturally present in Martian soil and known to hinder plant growth. In contrast, the University of Arkansas’s findings incorporated perchlorate salts in its Martian soil simulants, demonstrating the greater resilience of genetically modified rice compared to non-genetically modified rice through root development comparisons.

Looking Forward

Newly revealed insights into outer space farming hold promise for the future of agriculture. According to NASA, this innovative farming method has the potential to enhance crop yields, increase nutritional value, and reduce water and pesticide usage. Furthermore, the experiments conducted in challenging environments resembling salty or desert-like grounds can have practical applications in improving agriculture in arid regions on Earth. By enhancing crop resilience and ensuring food security, outer space farming can play a crucial role in mitigating instances of food shortage.

The recent findings from the University of Arkansas represent a significant step forward in the ongoing scientific exploration of outer space farming. As further studies and scientific breakthroughs unfold, both Earth’s agriculture and the potential for farming on other planets can reap the anticipated benefits.

Luciana Mena

Photo: Flickr