News / Science & Technology

    Tastier Tomato, Tougher Rice Sought From Genetic Data

    O. glaberrima rice. (International Rice Research Institute)
    O. glaberrima rice. (International Rice Research Institute)

    The tough but unpopular cousins of two favorite food crops have yielded their genetic secrets. Hardier, tastier tomatoes and more resilient rice for a hungry planet are among the goals.

    In two reports in the journal Nature Genetics, scientists have published the genomes of African rice and a wild relative of the tomato.

    A Solanum pennellii fruit, which stays green upon ripening. (Dani Zamir's lab)A Solanum pennellii fruit, which stays green upon ripening. (Dani Zamir's lab)
    x
    A Solanum pennellii fruit, which stays green upon ripening. (Dani Zamir's lab)
    A Solanum pennellii fruit, which stays green upon ripening. (Dani Zamir's lab)

    There are good reasons why these two never really caught on the way their better-known kin did. The Asian species of rice is more productive and easier to process than African rice. The wild tomato, Solanum pennellii, is poisonous.

    But experts say they have other virtues. For one, they can grow in harsher environments, an increasingly important trait in a changing global climate.

    Food for a crowded planet

    Climate change is complicating crop production, even as the number of people needing to be fed is expected to grow by 2 billion or more in four decades. “And that’s a pretty scary scenario,” said University of Arizona plant biologist Rod Wing.

    Wing said scientists around the world are working to develop more productive rice varieties that require less water, fertilizer and pesticides, and can grow on less productive land.

    African rice can better handle drought, poor soils and weeds than Asian rice.

    With the complete DNA sequence that Wing and colleagues published, scientists can now try to find the genes that control those traits and breed them into new rice varieties quicker than before.

    Tomato's country cousin

    Similar motives drove the researchers who sequenced the genome of the wild tomato.

    This South American plant can tolerate the dry conditions in its Andean homeland better than conventional tomatoes, and can handle saltier soils.

    The detailed new genetic map identified the genes likely responsible for these traits.

    And it could help rescue the notoriously bland supermarket tomato. The researchers found differences between wild and commercial tomatoes in the genes that contribute to tomatoes’ flavor and aroma.

    “Even though these wild tomatoes definitely don’t taste better, this population gives us an indication of where the taste is coming from,” said bioinformatics expert and study co-author Bjorn Usadel, currently at RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

    Usadel added that the genome data will also help ensure that new varieties bred from the wild tomato do not carry any of its poisonous genes.

    “Even though this is a perfectly natural way to do things, of course we have to make sure that the tomatoes that result are really healthy and useful for consumers,” he said.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora