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Tomatoes are a tough fruit to cultivate at times. Grown from long vines, they are not well suited for cramped spaces but thanks to a new gene-edited strain of tomatoes, the popular fruit can now be grown from a bush, making them much more amenable to urban farming.
New gene-edited tomatoes grown like grapes, opening new possibilities for urban farming
Researchers have used CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing to create a new strain of tomatoes that grow from bushes rather than vines, taking the often difficult-to-cultivate fruit and making it much more amenable to urban farming.
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In a newly-published study in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Zarchary Lippman -- a plant biologist at New York State's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory -- and his colleagues describe the process used to create the new strain.
“All flowering plants have a universal system of genes that encode hormones that tell the plant to stop making leaves and start making flowers," Lippman said. "For a number of years now, we’ve known that we could modify specific genes to control flowering and makes plants more compact."
Agricultural breeders have known about the two cycles of vegetation growth -- where the plant grows its leaves and grows in size as a result -- and flowering -- where it produces its fruits and seeds. Typically, breeders have emphasized the vegetative phase of a plants growth in order to produce the biggest plants, but what Lippman and his team did was increase the speed of the flowering cycle as well.
They made edits to three genes in the tomato plant that were identified with this flowering phase of the plant's growth to produce the new strain. The first two genes in the series were already known to control rapid flowering and fruit growth, but the third gene -- which was identified for the first time in this study -- was found to control the length of the plant's stem. By "deactivating" these three genes, they were able to create the compact tomato bush that creates grape-like bouquets of cherry tomatoes in a little over a month.
More importantly, this technique can potentially be generalized to other fruit-bearing plants like cucumbers, kiwis, and others, opening all sorts of new possibilities for urban and small-plot farming in the future.