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"Tomato Tweak" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have found a way to allow commercial tomato growers to coax their plants into producing more fruit without sacrificing the unique and necessary bushy shape of the plants.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Traffic sounds) Yield--for tomatoes. (Sound effect: squish!)

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: period music/anncr) 1908: New York State's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Botanist George Shull (shool), discovers that cross-breeding genetically distinct plants produces offspring more robust than either inbred parent. A phenomenon called 'hybrid vigor,' that's been used to improve agricultural productivity for over a century--even though scientists couldn't agree on exactly how or why it worked.

(Sound effect: fast-forward sound) Fast-forward to Cold Spring Harbor today, where researchers have found a way to coax tomato plants into producing more fruit, while still keeping a compact, bushy plant shape that allows mechanical harvesters to reap the crop.

Previously, the team had ID'ed a rare example of hybrid vigor involving a change in the gene that makes florigen, a hormone in charge of flowering and flower production. Now, they've found that the genetic change lowers the amount of florigen in tomato plants causing the plants to postpone the moment when they stop producing flowers. Result: (Sound effect: super powerful voice, reverb) Super-productive plants!

The researchers predict it may be possible to tweak florigen levels to get even higher yields--not just in tomatoes, but in other flowering plants as well.

The next time you enjoy a B.L.T., think of the researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Lab, a group of 'budding geniuses.'

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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