Tech UPTechnologyThis is how the gravity of Mars affects plants

This is how the gravity of Mars affects plants

In one of the most memorable scenes in the film Mars ( The Martian , 2015), directed by Ridley Scott, the castaway / astronaut Matt Damon manages to raise his potato crop. Science says that yes, you can make a career as a farmer on the Red Planet, and that, specifically, potatoes would be a highly recommended crop for their resistance, as indicated by an experiment carried out a few months ago by experts from the International Potato Center. (CIP) in Peru.

The tubers were then exposed to extreme Martian conditions such as temperature, oxygen levels or atmospheric pressure, but how would the neighboring planet’s gravity affect plant growth? That is what an international team in which researchers from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) have participated, coordinated by Raúl Herranz, from the Center for Biological Research, and whose results are published in the journals NPJMicrogravity and Scientific Reports .

To carry out the study, facilities of the European Space Agency (ESA) have been used where the conditions that astronauts and plants that they will take on future missions outside the Earth will experience are simulated: the gravity of the Moon (one sixth of the terrestrial) and Mars (which is just over a third). The species chosen for planting in this field is Arabidopsis thaliana , a laboratory regular that had also previously been tested on the International Space Station.

Improvable harvest

The main conclusion is that Arabidopsis thalian does not feel like microgravity: its growth in this environment is characterized by premature cell division that produces smaller cells . This is how Javier Medina, director of the Center for Biological Research who participated in the study, explains: “the rate of division and growth of its meristematic cells, the stem cells of plants, are strongly decompensated. The alterations of the plants in these conditions, especially in the lunar environment, can be as strong or even greater than those observed in the International Space Station ”.

The work published in Scientific Reports also looks at what would happen at the molecular level if we tried to cultivate the soil of an exoplanet where gravity, for example, would double that of Earth . And, according to their observations, the growth of Arabidopsis thaliana would suffer similar derangements, although of less intensity than when it is exposed to the microgravity of the Moon and Mars. The cause why this occurs is still under study by researchers .

“Although the results obtained in simulators can only be validated through studies in real microgravity, it is evident that it can be applied to the improvement of the growth conditions of the plants that will be part of the life support system (for food and psychological well-being of the astronauts) on space travel ”, Medina points out.


Aránzazu Manzano, Raúl Herranz, Leonardus A. den Toom, Sjoerd te Slaa, Guus Borst, Martijn Visser, F. Javier Medina y Jack J. W. A. van Loon. Novel, Moon and Mars, partial gravity simulation paradigms and their effects on the balance between cell growth and cell proliferation during early plant development. NPJMicrogravity. Doi:10.1038/s41526-018-0041-4

Khaled Y. Kamal, Raúl Herranz, Jack J. W. A. van Loon y F. Javier Medina. Simulated microgravity, Mars gravity, and 2g hypergravity affect cell cycle regulation, ribosome biogenesis, and epigenetics in Arabidopsis cell cultures. Scientific Reports. Doi:10.1038/s41598-018-24942-7


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