Growing potatoes on the red planet for survival (Ridley Scott’s movie “The Martian”) sounds convincing, so does the work of Peter Waterhouse, a plant geneticist, who also believes in taking food production to outer space. QUT scientists have discovered the gene that will open the door for space-based food production. A plant geneticist has discovered the gene in the ancient Australian native tobacco plant Nicotiana benthamiana, known as Pitjuri to Australian indigenous Aboriginals tribes. The discovery was made while tracing the history of the Pitjuri plant, which for decades has been used by geneticists as a model plant upon which to test viruses and vaccines. This plant is the 'laboratory rat' of the molecular plant world.
In 1939 its seeds were sent by an Australian scientist to a scientist in America and have been passed from lab to lab all over the world. By sequencing its genome and looking through historical records. Scientist have been able to determine that the original plant came from the Granites area near the Western Australia and Northern Territory border, close to where Wolf Creek was filmed. Through using a molecular clock and fossil records, that this particular plant has survived in its current form in the wild for around 750,000 years. The plant has lost its 'immune system' and has done that to focus its energies on being able to germinate and grow quickly, rapidly flower, and set seed after even a small amount of rainfall. Its focus is on creating small flowers but large seeds and on getting these seeds back into the soil in time for the next rain. The plant has worked out how to fight drought- its number one predator-in order to survive through generations.