November 29, 2022

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Is life on Mars a duckweed diet away? Not quite, but it could advance the cause of space travel

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Adelaide’s River Torrens has, in modern yrs, acquired a track record for currently being about as helpful to animal daily life as the earth Mars is acceptable for human residing.

But the Torrens — or, at least, an aquatic plant that is commonly located on its surface area — has been recruited for a study into how individuals could one working day dwell extended and prosper on the purple planet.

Duckweed, also identified as drinking water lentil, is being touted not only as a partial solution to the difficulty of having to Mars, but also to the trouble of how human beings survive there.

“People typically blunder it for an algae, and believe probably it really is an algal bloom on the water but actually it is a lot more intently associated to land plants like wheat and barley,” bio-scientist Jenny Mortimer explained to ABC Radio Adelaide’s Stacey Lee and Nikolai Beilharz.

“Rowing golf equipment are a bit irritated by it, having to paddle as a result of it, but actually it’s a beautifully normal point, it would not launch any contaminants so it is really not hazardous at all.”

Affiliate Professor Mortimer is running a challenge with PhD pupils at the College of Adelaide searching at duckweed’s several potent homes, and its suitability as a type of sustenance for human existence and foundation of long run civilisation.

“If human beings want to do prolonged-term house exploration — so likely past the house station, but [also] it’s possible living on the surface area of the Moon or even likely to Mars — then one particular of the most important issues is food, since you just only can’t choose everything you require with you,” Associate Professor Mortimer stated.

“We have completed some calculations and if you send out a crew of 4 men and women to Mars, it is really about a a few-year round journey, that is 10 tonnes of foods and that does not even [take] into account seeking to make confident the food items is nutritiously steady throughout those a few several years.

“A single answer is that perhaps you want to grow some of the food items as you go with you, but attempting to do that in a modest, confined space on a room shuttle is very tough so we’re seeking to different alternatives and duckweed is just one of those.”

A bacon-flavoured all-rounder?

Although duckweed could not necessarily conform with everyone’s concept of what’s appetising, it is eaten by human beings in sections of the planet, including south-east Asia. 

Dr Mortimer stated it has much to propose it — not only is it high in protein and nutrition, it grows quickly and tends to consider on the style of what ever setting it has been uncovered to, which can be the two a blessing and a curse.

“It tends to decide on up the flavour of whichever it can be been growing in,” Affiliate Professor Mortimer explained.

“Another person else who is effective in the US, he’s set a minimal bit of bacon flavouring in and it took up the bacon flavour.”

But Affiliate Professor Mortimer said there was no way anyone really should be ingesting it from the Torrens, which has battled pollution in the latest decades.

“You can actually [eat it] as it is. I mean, not specifically out of the Torrens – I you should not know what else is in there,” she mentioned.

“One particular of the factors we are undertaking in my team is amassing diverse Australian strains to assess how they behave and expand.”

Refreshing or spicy in zero gravity

When researchers converse about producing it to Mars, they are inclined to target on the logistics of the journey.

Elon Musk after joked that he desired “to die on Mars — just not on impact”.

But just as large a obstacle as the landing is the aftermath — and Professor Mortimer said duckweed could be portion of the alternative to the problem of environment up a colony.

“We’re also looking at a way of making other matters out of it,” she claimed.

“I am really fascinated in … using it as a program, so a very little environmentally friendly photosynthetic reactor for generating other molecules you could want in distant environments or on a house flight, so regardless of whether that’s prescription drugs or even perhaps some styles of creating material.”

While she conceded its use in real room missions could be decades absent, Associate Professor Mortimer reported it could help with a much more rarefied culinary dilemma.

Duckweed’s capability to soak up other flavours could again prove beneficial to countering menu exhaustion on area missions and preventing weight decline, albeit in zero gravity.

“If astronauts shed weight, it can be a big challenge simply because they are seriously form of intended to be accomplishing at the best of their game,” she explained.

“NASA — and this is the same in the military services and all sorts of other areas — they create these very crafted menus that are the right volume, of energy for these elite athletes who are astronauts, but individuals just get bored of eating the very same previous dehydrated microwave food.

“From time to time you want a thing which is fresh or spicy or has crunch – just one of the most requested up in the space station, when they’re permitted to get matters from dwelling, is apples because it has that crunch and freshness.”

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