One of the drawbacks of the modern domesticated tomato is the presence of a joint on the stem – this is a weak section which allows the fruit to drop. While the dropping of ripe fruit (and the seeds they contain) is clearly advantageous for the plant in the wild, for farmers this has tended to result in the loss of valuable fruit that could have been brought to market.
While wild variants of the tomato have been identified without the joint section of the stem, attempts to breed “jointless” characteristics into the domesticated plant have tended to result in crops with a lower yield.
Now, research using a new genetic engineering technique known as CRISPR offers the chance to finally add this trait to commercial variants of the tomato plant without the drawbacks.
Researchers identified the genes involved with the “jointless” trait and have been modifying tomato plants to generate different stem and flower arrangements so that they can understand which ones which are optimal for crop yield.
The scientists are collaborating with growers in the US to test out the different genetic variants and bring a superior plant to market. If all goes to plan, we should see a new type of tomato plant with a unique appearance appearing in fields over the next few years.