New gene-edited tomatoes grow in grape-like bunches
A new gene-edited tomato that grows in grape-like bunches could be ideally suited for production in urban areas or even in space.
This finding was the product of new research by a team at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory that looks specifically to engineer produce for urban environments.
Lead investigator Zach Lippman said that the goal is to find produce that can be grown in places typically not suitable for plants.
How the new tomato is different from traditional tomatoes
This new gene-edited tomato plant looks nothing like a traditional tomato plant. In contrast, scientists say it looks like a cluster of grapes. The most notable feature of the tomato is its bunched, compact fruit.
Researchers said that they resemble a bunch of roses replaced by cherry tomatoes.
"They have a great small shape and size, they tasted good, but of course that all depends on personal preference," Lippman detailed.
Apart from looks, the tomatoes are environmentally friendly.
"This demonstrates how we can produce crops in new ways, without having to tear up the land as much or add excessive fertilizer that runs off into rivers and streams," Lippman said.
He went on to explain the value of the plants in replacing other forms of farming.
"Here's a complementary approach to help feed people, locally and with a reduced carbon footprint."
Since urban agriculture calls for plants that are compact and can be stacked into tight places, this tomato is an important discovery. It is compatible with vertical farming in many big cities, added researchers.
How did this new tomato come about?
The group of scientists created the new tomatoes with gene-editing. To do this, they focused on two genes that control the plant's reproductive growth. These are called the Self Pruning (SP) and SP5G genes.
They targeted these genes because that way, the plant can stop growing sooner and flower and fruit earlier. However, the team understood that it could only alter the gene so much before it started losing its taste.
"When you're playing with plant maturation, you're playing with the whole system, and that system includes the sugars, where they're made, which is the leaves, and how they're distributed, which is to the fruits," Lippman explained.
The newest development by the team is the discovery that combining a mutated SIER with the CRISPR gene-editing tool created shorter stems and extremely compact plants.
They are currently refining this technique. While doing so, it hopes others will continue similar work on other plants. Lippman said that this work will help agriculture meet new heights. Specifically, these kinds of plants can even be in space.
"I can tell you that NASA scientists have expressed some interest in our new tomatoes," he said.
In the future of farming, findings like this may lead to urbanized space tomatoes.
Photo: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory