Magazine article Science News

Seedless Wonders for Winter Markets

Magazine article Science News

Seedless Wonders for Winter Markets

Article excerpt

Any gardener who has planted squash has probably seen the midget and funky-shaped end-of-season fruits that form when some step in the pollination process is out of whack. The misshapen squash make good conversation pieces but are a disaster for the market.

A group of researchers in Europe has genetically engineered a way around the problems that arise when pollination conditions are less than ideal. Application of the technique might improve the look and lot of off-season vegetables. Angelo Spena of the University of Verona in Italy and his colleagues report their findings in the December Nature Biotechnology.

To develop correctly, fruits need a growth hormone produced by their seeds. When fertilization fails and seeds don't form, fruits end up stunted and malformed. For commercial purposes, horticulturists sometimes apply plant growth hormone to the developing flowers to create normal-looking but seedless produce--tomatoes or cucumbers, for example.

Spena's team has instead altered eggplant DNA so that the fruit produces its own growth hormone, with or without seeds. The researchers spliced together a gene from a bacterium, to produce the hormone, and a snapdragon gene that targets the part of the plant where fruit develops.

When they slipped this genetic package Into the eggplant's DNA, the resulting plants bore normal-sized, elongated, purplish fruit. What's more, they bore fruit even under off-season conditions--when low light and low temperatures prevent marketable fruit from developing. …

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