Hopes for a colony on Mars took a step forward after scientists proved it was possible to grow edible food in Martian soil for the first time.
Researchers in the Netherlands have been attempting to grow crops in soils created to simulate conditions on the Red Planet and also the Moon.
Scientists of Wageningen University & Research Centre,Wageningen,were concerned that even if food grew it would contain dangerous levels of metals which would be toxic to humans.
But experiments growing tomatoes, peas, radishes and rye proved that the crops were not only safe, but possibly healthier than those grown in Earth soil.
“For radish, pea, rye and tomato we did a preliminary analysis and the results are very promising,” says Dr Wieger Wamelink. “We can eat them.”
Nasa has said that it wants to establish a Mars colony by the 2030s while the European Space Agency is hoping to return to the Moon even sooner. But if the plans are to be realised, astronauts will need to learn to grow their own food.
The research showed that only radishes had high levels ofaluminium, iron and nickel. They also grew significantly less well in lunar soil.
However scientists think that the problem may just be on the outside and washing away the soil would be enough to bring levels down and make them safe for eating.
In a finding that researchers said was ‘peculiar’ Earth potting soil was shown to have higher contents of lead, arsenic and copper than the Martian soil.
It is still unknown if the take up of heavy metals is the same on Earth as it would be under the lower gravity conditions found on Mars and the Moon. Only research ‘on site’ or in will give an answer.
The researchers are now planning tests on green beans, rocket and spinach and potatoes and are due to carry out further testing on vitamins, flavonoids, and alkaloids in the crops.