Potatoes successfully grown in conditions similar to those found on Mars

Scientists have successfully grown a potato plant in conditions similar to those found on Mars.

Researchers in Peru created a simulator with below-zero temperatures, high carbon monoxide concentrations and air pressure similar to that found at an altitude of 6,000m (19,700ft).

The results of the experiment at the International Potato Centre in Lima means the vegetables could one day be grown on Mars and benefit crop growth in arid areas on Earth that have been affected by environmental change.

The experiment began in 2016, a year after the Hollywood film The Martian depicted a stranded astronaut surviving by working out how to grow potatoes on Mars.

Peru was the birthplace of the domestic potato where they were first grown about 7,000 years ago in the Andes mountains near Lake Titicaca, on the border with Bolivia.

Researchers transported soil from Pampas de la Joya along the country's southern coast, which receives less than a millimetre of rain a year making its terrain comparable to the Red Planet's parched ground.

The International Potato Centre planted 65 varieties of potato and found just four sprouted from the soil.

Using live-streaming cameras they caught every movement as a bud began to grow with sensors providing round-the-clock monitoring of simulator conditions.

The winning potato was a variety called Unique.

Dr Julio Valdivia, an astrobiologist with Peru's University of Engineering and Technology, said: "It's a super potato that resists very high carbon dioxide conditions and temperatures that get to freezing."

While most of the research on growing plants has concentrated on optimising environments to get high output of oxygen and food, Dr Ray Wheeler, of NASA's Kennedy Space Centre, said: "But understanding the lower limits of survival is also important, especially if you consider re-deploying some sort of plant growth system before humans arrive."

Scientists now plan to build three more simulators to grow potato plants under extreme conditions with the aim of gaining a wider range of results.

They will also increase the amount of carbon dioxide to more closely imitate the Red Planet atmosphere.

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