Mars One

Can bacteria survive in Mars soil and thus enhance crop production?

Wageningen / London, February 24th, 2017 - The Imperial College in London is going to investigate if bacteria will survive in the Mars and Moon soil simulant in cooperation with Wageningen University & Research in March 2017. To be able to live on Mars or the Moon, humans will need to grow their own food. One of the key factors in plant growth and recycling of dead plant parts are bacteria. They break down the dead leaves, roots and stems and thus make nutrients, manure, available again for plant growth. Completing this cycle is essential for sustainable crop growth on Mars. “With this next step we are moving from just growing crops to building a small but sustainable ecosystem”, said Dr. ir. Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research and a Mars One adviser.

The experimental work will be carried out by Dr. Maaike van Agtmaal, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Division of Ecology and Evolution of the Imperial College in London. Soon she will start her first measurements. First, the Mars and Moon soil simulant is sterilised to make sure no bacteria are present. Then the simulant soil will be inoculated with bacteria from different agricultural soils and placed in microcosms. The activity of the bacteria will be monitored. “My aim is to study the process of terraforming of soils, the process of making soil habitable. We will therefore also compare the results from the simulants with Sahara sand and Arctic soil and with sterilised soil simulant without bacteria”, Van Agtmaal said. The experiment will last one month during which samples will be taken every week to observe which bacteria can enter the soil, see if they survive and test which essential soil functions they can bring.

One of the essentials for plant growth are nutrients as nitrogen, phosphorous potassium or calcium. These nutrients will be taken up by plants, resulting in growth. However, this will deplete the nutrient stock in the soil. For this reason, dead plant parts that are not eaten have to be returned to the soil, just like the faeces and urine of the humans. The nutrients in the dead plant parts will not be released to the soil, unless bacteria break down the dead plant material first. They feed from the dead plants, meanwhile releasing the nutrients for the plants. “We have been growing crops on Mars and Moon soil simulant for several years now”, Wamelink explains, “and we have demonstrated that it is possible to harvest over a dozen different crops including tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, carrots and radishes. These are important ingredients for a healthy and tasty diet for future Mars settlers. However, the harvest is still less than from crops grown on earth potting soil. This could be due to a lower bacterial activity and this experiment may reveal this.”

Bas Lansdorp, CEO and co-founder of Mars One: "For our mission of permanent settlement on Mars, growing food locally is very important. While our astronauts will bring storable food from Earth, they will try to eat as much fresh food that they produce on Mars as possible, increasing their independency from supplies from Earth and increasing the quality of life. Mars One is particularly interested in this research as it could mean an important step towards producing food more efficiently on Mars.”

Experiment bacteria in Mars Moon soil simulant

Experiment - Can bacteria survive in Mars Moon soil simulant?

About Maaike van Agtmaal, PhD

Maaike van Agtmaal is a soil microbial ecologist whose research focuses on experimentally testing the role of soil bacterial diversity on various soil functions in the lab and in the field. She is intrigued by microbial interactions in soil, and the effect which these small scale processes could have on ecosystem functioning. She works as postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London on the Ugrass project: 'understanding and enhancing soil ecosystem services and resilience in UK grass and croplands' which is part of the Soil Security Program of the UK.

Maaike van Agtmaal, Imperial College London

[email protected], +44 20 759 42317 / +44 7821495624

About Dr. ir. Wieger Wamelink

Dr. ir. Wieger Wamelink, a Mars One adviser, is a senior ecologist at Wageningen Environmental Science at Wageningen University & Research (the Netherlands). He has made significant scientific contributions to the understanding of the possibilities of using Martian soil for food production on Mars, a key component of the Mars One mission.

Wieger Wamelink has over 20 years of experience in experimental, field and modelling ecology after graduating as a plant breeder with speciality of plant physiology. He has (co-) authored more than 150 scientific publications and has appeared in many tv and radio shows and in many newspapers and other media. Wieger Wamelink collaborates with other departments within Wageningen University & Research including the department of Mars One adviser Prof. Dr. Leo Marcelis.

Wieger Wamelink, Wageningen University & Research

[email protected], +31 317 485917

For more information about the Food for Mars experiments, please go to community.mars-one.com/blog/category/wieger-wamelink
Photos of the Mars Moon experiments can be found here: facebook.com/pg/Food.for.Mars.and.moon/photos
For an overview of the Mars Moon experiment, please go to youtube.com/watch?v=TgKsYtVuR80

About Wageningen University & Research

Wageningen UR is a collaboration between Wageningen University and the DLO foundation. ‘To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’. That is the mission of Wageningen UR (University & Research centre). A staff of 6,500 and 10,000 students from over 100 countries work everywhere around the world in the domain of healthy food and living environment for governments and the business community-at-large. The scientific quality of Wageningen UR is affirmed by the prominent position they occupy in international rankings and citation indexes.

For more information about Wageningen University & Research, please visit www.wur.nl.

About Mars One

Mars One aims to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Before carefully selected and trained crews will depart to Mars, several unmanned missions will be completed, establishing a habitable settlement waiting for the first astronauts to arrive.

Mars One consists of two entities: the not-for-profit Mars One Foundation and the publicly trading Mars One Ventures AG [FRA: KCC], ISIN: CH0132106482. The Mars One Foundation implements, and manages the mission and owns the mission hardware. It also selects and trains the crews, and is building an ever growing community of experts and supporters that follow the progress of the mission and contribute to it.

Mars One Ventures holds the exclusive monetization rights around the Mars One mission. There are many revenue possibilities around the mission to Mars: merchandise, ads on video content, broadcasting rights, partnerships, Intellectual Property, events, games, apps, and many more.

For more information about Mars One, please visit www.mars-one.com.