CRISPR gene editing could turn wild plants into productive food crops

TM Aunt Molly Ground Cherry Seeds
Image: West Coast Seeds

The lantern-shaped groundcherry, with its distinctive paper-thin husk, tomato-like texture and flavor akin to kiwi, seems to deserve a place in international produce markets. But Physalis pruinosa lacks key productivity traits, so its appeal remains limited.

The fruit’s lowly status may soon change, however, now that researchers in Joyce Van Eck’s laboratory at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) have embarked on a journey to make groundcherries more suitable for farmers and gardeners alike.

In the lab, they’re employing the gene-editing technique CRISPR to understand how individual genes work, particularly those that might improve a plant’s growth characteristics, fruit quality and nutritional content. Though much of Van Eck’s research has focused on potato and tomato, the potential for rapid improvements in Physalis caught her interest because of the opportunity to apply lessons learned from other members of the Solanaceae plant family.

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Related article:  Attempts to CRISPR gene edited cassava plants to fight off viruses resulted in mutated viruses, study finds, raising concerns

“Dr. Van Eck’s research program puts BTI at the forefront of this new exciting technology,” said Paul Debbie, director of research at the Boyce Thompson Institute. “They are not only using this technology to improve new crops but to learn about mechanisms that plants have evolved over the millennia. This can have profound impacts on agriculture as we move into a challenging future.”

Read full, original article: A CRISPR approach to better crops

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