“Scientists working on the much-maligned genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have a new molecular tool at their disposal to tweak the genomes of various plants, in order to improve harvest yields and expand the geographical range of important food crops. Research led by investigators at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has formulated a rapid method to make two popular varieties of tomato plants flower and produce ripe fruit more than 2 weeks faster than commercial breeders are currently able to do.
The impact of this discovery cannot be overstated, as the potential impact could mean more plantings per growing season and thus higher yield. Moreover, it also means that the plant can be grown in latitudes more northerly than currently possible. Attributes that are extremely important as the earth’s climate warms and population continue to burgeon.
“Our work is a compelling demonstration of the power of gene editing—CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] technology—to rapidly improve yield traits in crop breeding,” noted senior study investigator Zachary Lippman, Ph.D., associate professor at the Watson School of Biological Sciences within CSHL. “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.”