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Genetically modified rice shows potential for growth on Martian soil

An image of active Dunes in Wirtz Crater. This image was taken by the HiRISE instrument on board on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

Genetically modified rice has a great potential for growing on Mars.

New research indicates that genetically modified rice may hold the key to cultivating food on Mars, paving the way for potential human colonization.

Genetically modified rice on Mars: A Better Option Than Potatoes

New findings from a team of interdisciplinary researchers at the University of Arkansas, presented at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, suggest that rice could be a more viable crop for future Martian botanists, like Mark Watney from Andy Weir’s bestselling book, The Martian.

Food on Mars: Tackling the Challenges of Martian Soil

The primary obstacle for cultivating food on Mars lies in the presence of perchlorate salts, which are toxic to plants. However, the researchers managed to simulate Martian soil using Mojave Mars Simulant (MMS). It is derived from basaltic-rich soil mined from the Mojave Desert. They found that, on Mars, genetically modified rice was a good option

Experimenting with Gene-Edited Rice Varieties

By growing one wild-type and two gene-edited rice strains designed to withstand stress factors like drought and salinity, the team found that replacing a quarter of the Martian simulant with potting soil improved plant development. The researchers also identified a perchlorate threshold in the soil, determining that genetically modified rice could potentially grow in Martian soil.

Next Steps and Earthly Applications

Future experiments will involve using the Mars Global Simulant and rice strains with higher salt tolerance, while assessing the degree of perchlorate leeching into the plants. Long-term goals include introducing rice into a closed habitat chamber in a Mars simulation environment. The research may also have applications on Earth, potentially aiding in food growth in areas with high soil salinity.

A Chance Meeting Sparks an Innovative Project

The project’s genesis can be traced to a casual meeting between first author Peter James Gann and second author Abhilash Ramachandran. Combining their expertise in cell and molecular biology and planetary science, they decided to explore plant growth in challenging environments.

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