This herb is the magic fertilizer needed to grow vegetables on Mars

This herb is the magic fertilizer needed to grow vegetables on Mars
The Martian movie
  • Indian-origin researchers found alfalfa grows well in volcanic soil that mimics Martian soil.
  • The use of alfalfa showed growth in turnips, radishes and lettuce in martian soil.
  • The experiment was the brainchild of 19-year-old researcher Pooja Kasiviswanathan.
In the movie The Martian, an astronaut played by Matt Damon was able to survive on potatoes he grew on Mars with an unpleasant ingredient - the waste left behind by his fellow crew members. But now, real-life Martian astronauts might be able to grow their own food with the help of Alfalfa - a herb that contains growth hormone (triacontanol) that stimulates plant roots' growth.
This has been made possible with the help of 19- year-old Indian-origin researcher, Pooja Kasiviswanathan. She was just 15 years old when she began her research on developing a food system on Mars. Currently, in her third year as a microbiology student at Iowa State University, Pooja Kasiviswanathan also attended an Astrobiology residential program at the University of Iowa.
Another senior Indian-origin scientist backed this research at Iowa State University, Dr Vijayapalani Paramasivan.
The part of the research explored how turnips grow in simulated Martian soil which was derived from volcanoes known as basaltic regolith soil because Martian soil is mostly made up of volcanic rock basalt, low in nutrients, and is bad at holding water due to lack of organic carbon. The simulated Martian soil was compared with the regular garden soil, which has more nutrients and other essential properties.
When turnip seeds in the simulated Martian soil were watered with fresh water, showed 7% more germination than those in garden soil. However, the turnip was far more unhealthy compared to the garden soil.
This meant that astronauts on the red planet needed some kind of magic fertilizer. According to Pooja Kasiviswanathan, Alfalfa is already being used as a biofertilizer on Earth. So researchers grew radishes, turnips, and lettuce in Martian soil along with alfalfa and watered it with fresh water. With Alfalfa , plants showed exponential growth, 190% increase in turnips, the biomass of lettuce leaves increased by 79%, and radishes increased by 311%, compared to garden soil.
In an interview with Forbes, Pooja Kasiviswanathan said, “The main idea behind this project is to be able to integrate two simulated Martian conditions, analyze the effect of these conditions on plant growth, and provide treatments for sustainable plant growth.”
Further, researchers investigate how these crops could be watered on Mars. They developed a briny solution to simulate the water on Mars and added marine bacteria - Synechococcus, which has the property to desalinate very salty water. Researchers found that within four weeks, the salinity of the water was reduced by 32%, but still, water was unhealthy for crops.
Therefore, they filtered it through basalt-type volcanic rocks, then used it to water the radish and turnip plants grown in alfalfa. The dry weight of the turnip plant was increased by 278%, and the fresh weight of the radish increased by 1047%.
This study signifies potential ways to treat water resources for farming on Mars in order to sustain the permanent settlements of human beings.

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