Australian Tobacco Plant May Be Key to Growing Food on Mars

By Mike Pomranz |

© Jacom Stephens / Getty Images

Not that Australia’s Outback is where you were planning on building your summer home, but now scientists are saying that the region’s extreme conditions might be so harsh that they caused plants to mimic the survival techniques vegetation might need to survive on Mars.

Scientist recently unraveled the DNA sequence of Nicotiana bethamiana, an Australian tobacco plant that is believed to have undergone a genetic mutation around 750,000 years ago that allows it to survive in the country’s Outback. Essentially, the plant gave up its immune system to focus more energy on reproduction. Researchers believe applying similar modifications to other plants would be helpful for encouraging growth somewhere like Mars where a strong immune system is less important because few, if any, pathogens exist on the uninhabited planet.

“In most places [a faulty immunity gene] is going to be a pretty useless trait because it’s going to be wiped out by disease,” Peter Waterhouse, a plant geneticist at Queensland University of Technology, told the Wall Street Journal. “In places like space where there are no pathogens, if you were growing your own plants you could dispense with the waste of having these defenses.”

Of course, despite these findings, we’re still nowhere closer to actually getting to Mars, but if we ever do, don’t forget to pack a pipe. It sounds like there is going to be a lot of high-grade Australian tobacco there.

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