CRISPR technology opens door to vertical farming of dozens of crops, from strawberries and cucumbers to mango and almond trees

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Do you want it locally grown, water-saving and pesticide-free? Urban agriculture might suit you, with a little help from gene editing. Zachary Lippman’s team has already succeeded with Solanaceae fruit crops, optimizing tomatoes and ground-cherries for indoor production (see their paper in Nature Biotechnology).

By targeting three genes (SlER, SPG5, and SP), they made the plants display compact growth habit and early yield. The tomatoes produced were slightly smaller than the wild type, but each plant bore more fruit, and they tasted good.

Commenting the paper in the news and views section, Cathryn O’ Sullivan and colleagues foresee a whole CRISPR menu coming from urban agriculture in the future. It is unlikely that wheat or rice will ever be grown indoors, but urban farms will be interested in producing any plant that has high value and is eaten fresh.

First of all fruits and vegetables that grow on bushes or vines, such as tomato, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, cucumber, capsicum, grapes, kiwifruit. Specialist crops such as hops, vanilla, saffron, coffee, and also medicinal or cosmetic crops may come next.

They think that one day even small trees (chocolate, mango, almonds) may be grown indoors. However, “for indoor farming to be broadly adopted, the capital and operating costs of climate-controlled farms must be reduced, or they will benefit only the wealthiest communities.”

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