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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora