Comprehensive coverage

The plant on Mars will glow blue if it is cold

Genetically modified plants are supposed to test the feasibility of agriculture on Mars

In a laboratory at the University of Florida, genetically engineered plants are growing in such a way that they will emit fluorescent light on the planet Mars. The head of the team that develops the plants, Dr. Rob Pearl, admits that the project sounds like an idea from a science fiction magazine from the 290s, but the American space agency (NASA) recently granted him XNUMX thousand dollars to continue development. If the project goes well, the plants will be sent to Mars in six years.

The purpose of the project is to check whether it is possible to grow plants on Mars, and if so, what conditions are necessary for growing them. The plant chosen for the task is Arabidopsis. The genes inserted into it will serve as "reporter genes": they will cause the plant to glow in response to conditions such as drought or disease. A camera that will be placed near the plants will send pictures of their condition to Earth.

Although the success of the project is not guaranteed, the report published yesterday by NASA already mentions more ambitious projects. According to the report, the cultivation of Arabidopsis will be only the first step in the effort to adapt Mars for a prolonged stay by humans.

Illustration: NASA: The greenhouses that NASA plans to establish on the planet Mars "Plants", the report states, "are a necessary link in creating a life-supporting environment".

Arabidopsis is a tiny plant, a relative of the cabbage. It is common in North America, and in Israel it grows only in Hermon. In a NASA report from yesterday, Dr. Pearl explained that each gene will respond to a different environmental factor: "One gene will cause parts of the plant to glow green, if too high levels of heavy metals are detected in the Martian soil; Another garden will turn the plant blue, if excess amounts of oxides are found in the soil."

In order for the transgenic plant to shine, among other things, genes from jellyfish were inserted into its genome. "The origin of the blue color is in the protein found in jellyfish. The gene responsible for the protein is attached to the DNA of the plant, and becomes active when the plant falls into the stressful conditions that will surely afflict it on Mars," explained Pearl. The launch date of the spacecraft that will take the seeds of the genetically engineered plants to the neighboring planet is set for 2007. The spacecraft will also carry with it a robotic arm that will scoop some soil into a small greenhouse in the lander. The soil will be fertilized and enriched with nutrients, and then the plants' struggle to grow in the almost unfamiliar environment of Mars will begin.

From the little that is known about the Martian soil, it is clear that a challenging growing environment awaits plants. The planet has arid land, and the temperature there varies, on average, from 7 degrees Celsius at noon, to minus 77 at night. Despite this, the scientists are optimistic: "I'm sure we can grow plants if we know the acidity level (pH) of the soil and know the oxidizing factors in it," said Dr. Pearl.

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.