Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Gene editing yields tomatoes that flower and ripen weeks earlier.
Gene editing yields tomatoes that flower and ripen weeks earlier.Using a simple and powerful genetic method to tweak genes native to two popular varieties of tomato plants, a team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has devised a rapid method to make them flower and produce ripe fruit more than 2 weeks faster than commercial breeders are currently able to do. This means more plantings per growing season and thus higher yield. In this case, it also means that the plant can be grown in latitudes more northerly than currently possible -- an important attribute as Earth's climate warms. Our work is a compelling demonstration of the power of gene editing -- CRISPR technology -- to rapidly improve yield traits in crop breeding," says CSHL Associate Professor Zachary Lippman, who led the research. Applications can go far beyond the tomato family, he says, to include many major food crops like maize, soybean, and wheat that so much of the world depends upon. Lippman clarifies that the technique his team publishes in Nature Genetics is about more than simply increasing yield. "It's really about creating a genetic toolkit that enables growers and breeders in a single generation to tweak the timing of flower production and thus yield, to help adapt our best varieties to grow in parts of the world where they don't currently thrive. At the heart of the method are insights obtained by Lippman and colleagues, including plant scientists at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, NY and in France led by Dr. José Jiménez-Gómez, about the evolution of the flowering process in many crops and their wild relatives as it relates to the length of the light period in a day. Genetic research revealed why today's cultivated tomato plant is not very sensitive to this variable compared to wild relatives from South America. Somehow, it does not much matter to domesticated plants whether they have 12 hours of daylight or 16 hours; they flower at virtually the same point after planting.continue