Martian potatoes and Chinese GM corn

When Europeans reached South America among the unfamiliar foods they found were potatoes, which they quickly carried around the world. Some 500 years later, in every corner of the globe, the potato is now a staple – the fourth largest crop globally, by the way, at 300 million metric tons -- in both wildly divergent cuisines and ubiquitous fast food fries.

Now, with humankind increasingly looking to the Red Planet with wanderlust, is the lowly potato set to be literally ascendant?

It turns out that NASA, considering the possibilities of sending a wildly adventurous crew to Mars, has teamed up with Peruvian researchers to come up potato varieties that can be grown in Martian soils. No joke.

And if you’re trying to come up with an earthbound location to mimic Mars, southern Peru’s Pampas de la Joya desert is the spot. There “are volcanic soils with no life forms at all, just as on Mars,” according to Joel Ranck, Peruvian International Potato Center (CIP) communications officer.

Peru alone has around 4,000 edible varieties of potatoes – most from the Andes. CIP says its “germplasm bank keeps the biggest collection of potatoes in the world, including over 7,000 accessions of native, wild, and improved varieties.”

And studies on Peruvian potatoes have already begun outside the Earth’s gravitational pull. In 2009, International Space Station astronauts set up experiments to grow five potato varieties to find those best suited for a Mars visit. 

Pivoting to less stellar pursuits, it appears farmers in northeast China have been illegally growing GM corn in a big way. A Reuters story references a report by Greenpeace claiming “93 percent of samples taken last year from corn fields in five counties in Liaoning province, part of China's breadbasket, tested positive for GMO contamination.”

Greenpeace says the illegal corn is now likely in "grain storage warehouses, wholesale and retail markets across the country."

The cat may be out of the bag. In an investigation of area markets, Greenpeace claims six corn seed varieties tested positive for GM traits. Three of the varieties were government-certified conventionals and had, therefore, been contaminated. 

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