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Scientists make breakthrough in research that could transform how we grow tomatoes — here's how it could affect other crops

The crops that the world relies on for food are becoming increasingly difficult to grow.

The crops that the world relies on for food are becoming increasingly difficult to grow.

Photo Credit: iStock

Researchers have figured out how to grow tomatoes that consume less water without compromising the yield, quality, or taste, Phys.org reported.

The researchers used something called CRISPR technology to genetically alter the tomato plants to be able to grow them more efficiently. Their findings were published in the scientific journal PNAS.

CRISPR, which stands for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats," is a relatively new technology that scientists are using to selectively modify the DNA of living organisms. It has already been used to grow more stress-tolerant tomatoes, rice that is immune to certain crop diseases, all-around better strawberries, trees specifically intended for paper production, and more.

As our planet continues to overheat — largely a consequence of our reliance on dirty energy sources such as gas and oil that spew heat-trapping air pollution — the crops that the world relies on for food are becoming increasingly difficult to grow. 

One of our main long-term priorities should be transitioning away from dirty energy and toward clean, renewable alternatives such as wind and solar. In the near term, it is also important to use technology to figure out how to grow more efficient and resilient crops that require fewer resources, which is where CRISPR comes in.

To create tomatoes that required less water — especially important in the face of increasingly frequent and intense droughts — the scientists removed a gene called ROP9, which functions as a switch that toggles the plants between an active and inactive state. By removing that switch, the tomato plants' stomata remained partially closed during the day, allowing them to retain more water.

What's even more exciting is that the scientists believe this method could be applied to other crops as well. 

"There is great similarity between the ROP9 in tomatoes and ROP proteins found in other crop plants such as pepper, eggplant, and wheat. Therefore, the discoveries detailed in our article could form the basis for the development of additional crop plants with enhanced water use efficiency, and for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind stomatal opening and closing," said Dr. Nir Sade, one of the researchers.

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