Scientists have created a new type of tomato that can be grown in environments which normally wouldn’t be suitable for plant life like rooftops, inside shipping containers, and even in outer space.
The gene-edited tomatoes don’t resemble conventional long-vine tomatoes. Instead, they are grown in compact bunches similar to how grapes are grown. The tomatoes also mature quicker than regular tomatoes, producing ripe, edible vegetables within just 40 days.
“This demonstrates how we can produce crops in new ways, without having to tear up the land as much or add excessive fertiliser that runs off into rivers and streams. Here’s a complementary approach to help feed people, locally and with a reduced carbon footprint,” said Zach Lippman, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor and HHMI Investigator.
To create this space-saving vegetable, Lippman and his colleagues edited and fine-tuned the SELF PRUNING (SP) and SP5G genes, which caused the plant to mature sooner and produce fruit earlier. The challenging part of this process was modifying the tomatoes without sacrificing taste or producing a vegetable that is too small. To remedy this problem the team of researchers found a third gene called SIER that controls stem length. They mutated that gene using the CRISPR gene-editing tool and combined it with the other two genes to get the compact, flavorful vegetables.
“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 said.
Lippman and his team hopes that others will be inspired by the breakthrough and go on to create their own fast-growing crops in the future.