Researchers at New York-based Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have used the CRISPR technology to produce cherry and roma tomato plants that produce ripe fruit two weeks faster than current methods.
Using gene-editing to tweak tomato genes that affect sensitivity to day length, the research group’s innovation was creating tomatoes that flower and produce fruit earlier than the domesticated varieties on which they were based.
The resulting tomato can be planted more times per growing season and yield more fruit, according to a news release. The gene-edited plant can be grown in latitudes farther north as well.
Today’s typical cultivated tomato plant is not very sensitive to day length compared to wild relatives from South America. Domesticated tomato plants flower at virtually the same time after planting, whether they have 12 hours of daylight or 16 hours of daylight, according to the release.
“Our work is a compelling demonstration of the power of gene editing — CRISPR technology — to rapidly improve yield traits in crop breeding,” Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory associate professor Zachary Lippman said in a news release. The use of the technology could potentially be valuable for other food crops, he said, including corn, soybeans and wheat.
The researchers have a patent application filed on their work but did not say then the tomato varieties would be commercially available.
A research paper about the gene-edited tomato plant was published Dec. 5 in Nature Genetics, according to the release.
“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,” Lippman said in the release.
“What we’ve demonstrated here is fast-forward breeding,” Lippman says. “Now we have a simple strategy to completely eliminate daylight sensitivity in elite inbred and hybrid plants that are already being cultivated. This could enable growers to expand their geographical range of cultivation, simply by using CRISPR to rapidly ‘adapt’ tomato and other crops to more northern latitudes, where summers have very long days and very short growing seasons.”
The research, according to the release, was supported by EMBO, the Next-Generation BioGreen 21 Program, the German Research Foundation, the Max Planck Society, the German Research Foundation under the German-Israeli Project Cooperation program, BARD, the US-Israel Binational Agricultural Research & Development fund, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grant from the USDA, and the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program.