Scientists already know how to make a tasty tomato, but in the quest for mass production, there's another barrier to overcome: how to make a tomato that grows 24 hours a day.
If tomato plants don't enjoy eight hours of darkness — which sees them stop growing — they become covered in yellow spots and, if it persists, ultimately die. That's not a problem for the plants in your back garden, but for professional growers it's time wasted.
Which is why scientists in the Netherlands have been trying to work out how to make tomato plants that will grow reliably even when bathed in sunlight all day long. Now, they've published results in Nature, which explain that they've isolated a gene that could see tomatoes growing around the clock.
The gene, known as "type III Light Harvesting Chlorophyll a/b Binding protein 13 (CAB-13)" — snappy! — is found in some plants and is known to control their reaction to light. When introduced into modern tomato hybrids, it provides a 20 per cent boost in production when the plants are exposed to all-day light. That's not far off the 30 per cent increase you'd expect from a 24-hour growth period; pretty compelling stuff, and possibly a major win for tomato growers.
But really, it's only the start of the quest for the 24-hour tomato. Researchers still need work out if any other genes are at play, and how the delicate interplay between proteins, sugars and electrolytes affects their growth all day long, too. For now, then, ketchup still needs its beauty sleep. [Nature via Modern Farmer]
Image by SkÃ¥nska Matupplevelser under Creative Commons licence