A new type of tomato has been created by scientists who wanted to engineer a wider variety of crops that could be grown in urban environments or other places not suitable for plant growth. The team working on the new type of tomato says it is a gene-edited crop, and it looks nothing like the long vines you expect to see on tomatoes.
Rather than growing on long vines, the new gene-edited crop is bunched and compact. The new tomato plants resemble a bouquet of roses with the rose blossoms replaced by cherry tomatoes. The variety also matures quickly, producing ripe fruit ready for harvest in under 40 days.
Like other varieties of tomatoes, this new gene-edited version is edible. One scientist says that the tomatoes taste good, but that depends on personal preference. Researchers say that the new strain of tomato is also eco-friendly because it doesn’t require as much land or as much fertilizer. Since the tomatoes can be grown in urban areas, the hope is that some of the burden of growing the world’s crops can be moved to urban areas.
For this to happen, urban growth calls for compact plants that can be slotted or stacked into tight spaces, such as in tiered farming in warehouses or converted storage containers. Urban farms will operate year-round in climate-controlled areas.
The new tomatoes were created by fine-turning two genes that control the switch to reproductive growth and plant size. The genes relating to those are Self Pruning (SP) and SP5G genes. The modifications caused the plant to stop growing and flower and fruit earlier. The hard part was modifying the genes without trading flavor or yield for smaller plants. The team found a third gene called SIER that controls stem length. The mutated that gene using the CRISPR gene-editing tool and combined it with the other two genes to get the compact plants.