By combining genomics and gene editing, researchers have figured out how to rapidly bring a plant known as the groundcherry toward domestication.
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and… groundcherries? A little-known fruit about the size of a marble could become agriculture’s next big berry crop.
To prepare the groundcherry (Physalis pruinosa) for mainstream farming, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Zachary Lippman, Joyce Van Eck at the Boyce Thompson Institute, and colleagues combined genomics and gene editing to rapidly improve traits such as fruit size, plant shape, and flower production.
Their results show that it’s possible to take a plant that’s practically wild and bring it close to domestication in a matter of years. The team describes their work, a shortcut around traditional breeding techniques, October 1, 2018, in the journal Nature Plants.
“I firmly believe that with the right approach, the groundcherry could become a major berry crop,” says Lippman, a plant scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Some scientists might consider the idea a reach, he adds. “But I think we’re now at a place where the technology allows us to reach.”
For growers, new crops mean a chance to diversify and offer more options to consumers. The next major berry has eluded food producers for years, Lippman says. Groundcherries are appealing candidate because they are drought tolerant and have an enticing flavor. You have to taste the fruit to fully grasp its complexity, says Lippman, who describes it as tropical yet sour, sometimes with hints of vanilla.
Groundcherries (also called “husk cherries” and “strawberry tomatoes”) are native to Central and South America and belong to a group of plants known as orphan crops. They’re grown as small-scale crops, regionally, or for subsistence. Orphan crops rarely make it into mainstream agriculture because of limitations such as poor shelf life or low productivity.
Improving these plants for large-scale production through breeding is a huge investment of time and money, Lippman says. It can take anywhere from a decade to thousands of years to domesticate a crop from the wild. Researchers and growers need to figure out the plant’s genetics, adaptations, and how to cultivate it.
That’s why few orphan crops become household names. Quinoa, the fluffy, high-protein grain that’s now standard in supermarkets, has risen through the agricultural ranks, but other orphan crops like groundnut, teff, and cowpea remain relatively unheard of outside their home regions.
Some consumers may be already be familiar with the groundcherry – like its relative, the tomatillo, the orange fruits are covered in thin, papery husks. They occasionally show up in U.S. farmers markets where “they sell like hotcakes,” Lippman says. (Martha Stewart has a recipe that suggests drizzling them with olive oil). But groundcherries are not easy to grow. Now, Lippman thinks that the traits he and Van Eck have introduced may position the fruit for large-scale production.
An unconventional approach
The researchers’ work lays out how genome editing can give orphan crops like the groundcherry an agricultural advantage. Scientists currently use genome editing to engineer desirable traits in mainstream crops like corn, soybeans, and many others. But until now, no one had used the technique to bolster desirable traits in orphan crops.
To ready the groundcherry for store shelves, Lippman and Van Eck needed to address some of the plant’s shortcomings. The researchers wanted to make its weedy shape more compact, its fruits larger, and its flowers more prolific. They used a three-pronged approach to tackle the problem: the team sequenced a sampling of the groundcherry’s genome, figured out how to use the genome editing tool CRISPR in the plant, and identified the genes underlying the groundcherry’s undesirable traits.
That genetic work relied on previous studies Lippman and others have already done in tomatoes. Knowing which genes control certain tomato traits let the researchers find and manipulate those same genes in the distantly related groundcherry.
Next, Lippman wants to fine-tune the groundcherry traits they have begun to improve and manipulate additional characteristics like fruit color and flavor. He notes that some traditional plant breeding will still be necessary to perfect the groundcherry as a mainstream crop. And he can’t say exactly when the fruit might make it to market. Releasing a new variety will first require navigating CRISPR intellectual property rights.
Lippman hopes his team’s work will inspire researchers to examine other orphan crops with well-studied relatives and consider how those crops, too, have potential for rapid domestication.
“This is about demonstrating what’s now possible,” he says.
Learn more: This Wild Plant Could Be the Next Strawberry
The Latest on: Orphan crops
via Google News
The Latest on: Orphan crops
- Catholic visa holder allowed to stay in Tasmania after going to jail for crop sitting drug racketon January 25, 2021 at 2:06 am
TWO Hobart priests have helped save a young Vietnamese man from deportation after a fall from grace took him from a job as Glenorchy church gardener to an interstate drug-growing racket – and ...
- Meissa Announces First Dosing in Phase 2 Study of Intranasal Live Attenuated Vaccine Candidate for RSVon January 23, 2021 at 11:56 am
Meissa Vaccines (Meissa), a biotechnology company developing vaccines to prevent viral respiratory infections, announced today that the first adult participants have been dosed in a Phase 2 study of ...
- BioCryst Announces Approval of ORLADEYO™ (berotralstat) in Japan for the Prophylactic Treatment of Hereditary Angioedemaon January 22, 2021 at 6:33 pm
BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Nasdaq: BCRX) today announced that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) in Japan has granted marketing and manufacturing approval for oral, once-daily ...
- Backing for GM crops still a political hot potatoon January 18, 2021 at 8:53 pm
“Neither the private nor the public sector has invested significantly in new genetic technologies for the so-called orphan crops such as cowpea, millet, sorghum and teff that are critical for the food ...
- Facebook finds foster mare for Carlene Barton's orphan foal Athenaon January 13, 2021 at 4:00 am
"She was in a pretty bad way. There was always a chance we were going to have an orphan foal. She had a very complicated delivery. We had to put her down pretty much straight after the foal was born.
- Travere Therapeutics Announces Orphan Drug Designation for Sparsentan for the Treatment of IgA Nephropathyon January 12, 2021 at 1:53 pm
SAN DIEGO, Jan. 12, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Travere Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: TVTX) today announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Orphan Drug Designation to ...
- Warrnambool man remembers hero grandfather 100 years on from tragic sinkingon January 8, 2021 at 6:30 am
He is among the 10 people who lost their lives that day. James' death left Molly an orphan - her mother had died from peritonitis when she was just five. She went to live with her three unmarried ...
- Party like it’s 1925 on Public Domain Dayon January 1, 2021 at 12:42 pm
Law professor Jennifer Jenkins says 2021 is “a bumper crop.” F. Scott Fitzgerald ... and made available for free online; that old "orphan" films can be preserved by archivists; that scholars ...
- ‘A Bumper Crop’ of Books, Movies and Music Just Entered the Public Domainon December 31, 2020 at 4:00 pm
It also means books can be published more cheaply and made available for free online; that old "orphan" films can be preserved by archivists ... to use for education and inspiration. "What a bumper ...
via Bing News