Wieger Wamelink on toxins in Martian soils and growing space bamboo

Published on
September 12, 2023

The Wageningen Experience Day is themed ‘105 years into the future’. One researcher whose undivided attention is on the future is Wieger Wamelink. His Food for Mars and Moon project is almost science fiction. Wamelink will discuss his project at length during the Wageningen Experience Day on 7 October, during which he also joins one of the event’s two talk-show sessions.

Wamelink was so taken by the question of whether we would be able to cultivate crops on Mars and on the moon that he initiated the Food for Mars and Moon project in 2013. Despite his expertise as an ecologist and exobiologist (a space farmer, so to speak), he does not especially want to travel to Mars. ‘The trip is much too long; it takes at least six months to get there. I would like to go to the moon. That’s only a two-day trip. Moreover, it is unlikely we will be able to travel to Mars before 2030, by which time I will be too old to join one of the first crews.’

The project has taken Wamelink across the globe already and continues to keep him busy. Last summer, he lectured at The Future of Life Sciences Symposium in Utrecht and discussed the question of ‘how your poop can feed the world’ during the Docu-Science event ‘Holy shit’ on the campus.

Solutions for space crop farming

Additionally, this summer, Wamelink was involved in the Summer School for young researchers and students. Wamelink: ‘This programme encouraged them to devise solutions for space crop farming while simultaneously considering such topics as energy, health, nutrition and sustainability. The mornings were reserved for lectures, while students were offered the opportunity to contribute to experiments on locations in the Netherlands and China during the afternoons.’

This collaboration yielded new insights, says Wamelink. ‘One of the objectives during the Summer School was solving the perchlorate problem. Perchlorate is a toxin found in Martian soils, which is not present in simulation soils. The substance is extremely hazardous to humans and plants. A group of students came up with an innovative solution.’

The project is still under development in other areas, too. Wamelink: ‘A fun experiment just wrapped up by Emke Mooney is growing bamboo in simulated Martian soil. That experiment was successful and, to the best of my knowledge, the first of its kind. The underlying idea is that bamboo grown on Mars and moon soil can serve as a construction material, while the fibres are suitable for manufacturing clothing.’

Wageningen Experience Day for alumni and employees

Are you an alumnus or a WUR employee? learn
more about growing crops on Mars and the moon.

You can register for the Wageningen Experience Day on this page and you can also find the full programme here.