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Ever tried your hand at growing tomatoes? For those of us who have, we all know that a summer's work pays off after taking that first delicious bite.
Unfortunately for those of us with a small balcony in an urban area, there's often only room for a few tomato plants—maybe enough to sustain a few dinner parties, if we're lucky.
But Brazilian scientists at the Federal University of Viçosa and the University of São Paulo have developed a breed of tomatoes that are ten times more prolific than the average crop. The new fruits also contain 500% more lycopene—a healthy antioxidant—than store-bought tomatoes.
This groundbreaking tomato transformation is just one example of an encouraging trend in many Latin American countries. The entire continent has become a global center for research into gene editing—a scientific frontier that has the potential to improve millions of lives around the world.
Gene Editing in Latin America
From tomatoes in Brazil to potatoes in Argentina, Latin America has become a global center for research into gene editing—a scientific frontier that has the potential to improve millions of lives around the world.
By making slight alterations to the genetic blueprints of existing plants, gene-editing processes can speed up processes that could otherwise have happened through traditional cross breeding or natural evolution. CRISPR-Cas9—the technique used to create the supercharged tomatoes—is akin to minorly rearranging a plant's DNA with a microscopic pair of scissors.
In Argentina, for instance, genetic researchers have tweaked potato genes to make spuds that store for longer periods of time and brown more slowly when exposed to open air. The improved potatoes also happen to consume less water when growing, a valuable perk for a country whose most important river recently experienced its worst drought in 77 years.
Blight is a destructive problem in Columbia, which grows 90% of the rice it consumes. Gene editing tools not only improve the country's food security but also ensure that Columbians don't have to resort to importing a larger portion of the food they eat every day.
As illustrated by these examples, from "super-tomatoes" to the pumped-up potatoes, gene editing advances don't just make agriculture more efficient and convenient. These powerful tools can be specifically tailored to the needs of local populations, whether it's drought resistance or higher productivity.
In many cases, these small alterations have outsized—perhaps even lifesaving—impacts. Just think of the progress we could make against food insecurity if all crops were ten times more productive.