“Evolution of Soil on Mars”… where fiction becomes fact

Much discussed among microbiogists have been various scenes from the book and film (both excellent), “The Martian”.  In short, the protagonist mixes some earth soil, some human feces, and some Martian soil to grow potatoes on Mars.  Would this work?  Is the feces required?  Would you get sick?  Are the microbes even needed for plant growth under these conditions as implied in the film?  These are the questions that keep microbiology-inclined folks awake (at least judging from my wildly unrepresentative Twitter feed).

For people interested in this topic, I highly recommend the recent article “Evolution of Soil on Mars” which discusses this, and other aspects of farming on Mars in great detail.  Key sections of the paper include:

-The Martian: a Novel
-Where to farm on Mars?
-Extremophiles on Earth and Mars
-Enriching martian soil
-Planetary contamination

Sadly after all this great information the authors refuse to speculate on whether the potato farming depicted on the book/film would have actually worked!


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David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter