Science News reports on a presentation at the recent Lunar and Planetary Science Conference by researcher Abhilash Ramachandran, who found that rice – one of our planet’s most significant food sources – can find all the nutrients it needs to thrive in the red soil of Mars… as long as we find a way to get around one toxic chemical called perchlorate:
Growing rice there would be ideal, because it’s easy to prepare, he says. “You just peel off the husk and start boiling.”
Ramachandran and his colleagues grew rice plants in a Martian soil simulant made of Mojave Desert basalt. They also grew rice in pure potting mix as well as several mixtures of the potting mix and soil simulant. All pots were watered once or twice a day.
Rice plants did grow in the synthetic Mars dirt, the team found. However, the plants developed slighter shoots and wispier roots than the plants that sprouted from the potting mix and hybrid soils. Even replacing just 25 percent of the simulant with potting mix helped heaps, they found.
The researchers also tried growing rice in soil with added perchlorate. They sourced one wild rice variety and two cultivars with a genetic mutation — modified for resilience against environmental stressors like drought — and grew them in Mars-like dirt with and without perchlorate.
No rice plants grew amid a concentration of 3 grams of perchlorate per kilogram of soil. But when the concentration was just 1 gram per kilogram, one of the mutant lines grew both a shoot and a root, while the wild variety managed to grow a root.
You can read more of Ramachandran and colleagues’ research here, in the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference reports.