If potatoes can grow on Mars, they can grow anywhere: The International Potato Center (CIP) has launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under the atmospheric conditions prevalent on the planet Mars as well as in extreme climates on Earth. The tuber was planted in a specially constructed CubeSat contained environment built by engineers from the University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru, based on designs and advice provided by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. Preliminary results are positive. Researchers want to understand how well potatoes survive the kind of extreme conditions caused by climate change and weather shocks around the world. Potatoes may be an even more important food in the future because they have the capacity to adapt to extreme environments. CIP has tapped into that capacity by breeding potato clones that tolerate conditions such as soil salinity and drought to help smallholder farmers grow food in marginal areas that could grow harsher under climate change. Several rounds of experiments will determine which potato varieties do best, and what the minimum conditions are for survival. READ MORE

Lucky for us, U.S. HPAI is not the Chinese strain: USDA officials have confirmed that the strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) confirmed this week at a commercial farm in Lincoln County, Tenn., is not related to an H7N9 strain that has impacted poultry and humans in China. The agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said lab tests show that the H7 strain in Tennessee showed a genetic connection with a virus lineage found in North American wild birds. The tests confirmed that the H7N9 at the farm that supplies poultry to Tyson Foods is “genetically distinct” from the H7N9 strain linked to 304 human infections and 36 deaths in China as of late February, according to the World Health Organization. Health officials had expressed about the Chinese strain mutating to be spread among humans, potentially causing a pandemic.  READ MORE 

Rise of the Machine: A burger-flipping robot has just completed its first day on the job at a restaurant in California, replacing humans at the grill. Flippy has mastered the art of cooking the perfect burger and has just started work at CaliBurger, a fast-food chain. The robotic kitchen assistant, which its makers say can be installed in just five minutes, is the brainchild of Miso Robotics. READ MORE