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Genetically modified tomato initiates new growth, generating biomass

GERALDO SILVA / ESALQGenetically modified tomato initiates new growth, generating biomassGERALDO SILVA / ESALQ

The future of agriculture may involve a new biotechnological technique that showed promising results at the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture at the University of São Paulo (USP), in the city of Piracicaba. Biologist Geraldo Felipe Ferreira e Silva, a member of the team coordinated by Professor Fabio Tebaldi Silveira Nogueira, has produced genetically modified tomato plants whose fruit contains cells that retain the ability to originate other plant organs. Another aspect they observed was that the plant produces more buds, which can lead to increased biomass. “This is a basic science experiment in which we overexpressed the microRNA156 gene, which was able to alter the state of the tomato flower’s ovary, driving the fruit itself to carry on with the plant’s growth process,” says Silva, a doctoral student at the USP Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (CENA), funded by FAPESP. The tomato plant was chosen on account of its short life cycle and because it is an excellent genetic model for studies on fleshy fruits, in addition to having microRNA156 in its genetic material. In order to overexpress this gene, the researchers took the equivalent genetic segment from Arabidopsis thaliana, a model plant used in genetic studies, and inserted it into the tomato plant. Understanding this regulation pathway is also important for commercial reasons. “Knowing what is behind the variability in tomatoes can enable us to change the shape of the fruits and increase production in the future,” says Professor Nogueira, who also received funding from FAPESP for this study. Nogueira first detected these RNA molecules during previous studies on sugarcane, which is not an adequate model for investigating the formation of fruit. A paper about the study on genetically modified tomatoes was published in the May 2014 issue of The Plant Journal.