West Virginia State University (WVSU) has been awarded $100,000 in federal funding from NASA for a research project that will investigate the efficacy and adaptability of sweet potatoes as a potential crop that could be grown on Mars.

“My team and I will perform physiological and biochemical characterization of the sweet potatoes in a simulated Mars-like extraterrestrial environment and evaluate major traits such as development, biomass production, photosynthesis, tuber quality and abiotic stress tolerance,” said Dr. Umesh Reddy, WVSU professor of biology.

Reddy and his colleagues will also analyze the profiles and content of heavy metals in the leaves, stems and tuber tissues of the sweet potatoes to understand the uptake and accumulation of toxic metals during development in the soil simulant.

“The data will help develop transgenic stress-tolerant sweet potato plants in the future that selectively prevent heavy metal uptake,” said Reddy.

The project’s long-term goal is to develop a physiology program that educates, encourages and engages students in participating in NASA-related space biology research activities.

This project is supported by the NASA Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program.

From West Virginia State University