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Gene Editing Helps Modernize the Wild Tomato
Uncovering the history of a crop is key to discovering how different varieties came to be. A recent study of tomato plants found that the modern tomato is, in fact, not so different from its wild ancestors.
Previously thought to have been cultivated in South America about 7,000 years ago, researchers are now learning that tomatoes actually started as a wild species almost 80,000 years ago. This information is helping scientists use gene editing to better breed characteristics from wild varieties into domesticated tomatoes that produce hardier, more flavorful qualities.
Traditional plant breeding methods can take decades to produce desirable qualities like high yield and disease resistance. Gene editing, however, revolutionizes this process and allows scientists to more efficiently produce plants that will pass down these traits.
Some scientists have already gotten started. Researchers from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York have made small-size, high-yield tomato plants a reality. Using gene editing, they are breeding tomato plants that grow as a bush, rather than vines, making them easier to grow in small spaces.
Innovations like these are helping crops adapt to meet the needs of a changing climate and growing world population, which will become increasingly important in the years to come.