OCT 03, 2018 07:29 AM PDT

Groundcherries May be Coming Soon to a Market Near You

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

You may not have heard of the groundcherry (Physalis pruinosa), but scientists are eager to get people to try the exotic fruit, which has a flavor that has been described as tropical, and may or may not also taste like vanilla or tomatoes. Groundcherries usually grow in Central and South America and are high in nutrients like vitamins, protein, and fiber. The fruit is about the size of a marble and is a member of the nightshade family. Researchers are hoping to bring it to US markets within a few years now that it's been genetically modified, and will be easier to grow than the type found in the wild.

"We targeted genes that we knew from our experience could make the plant more compact and manageable," said Joyce Van Eck, a researcher at the Boyce Thompson Institute, an independent affiliate of Cornell University. "Farmers have been saying, 'if you can just get them to behave, we'd be growing acres of these.'" Van Eck talks about GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) and whether they are safe to eat in the video.

Taking inspiration from previous changes that have been made to tomatoes, the researchers used the CRISPR gene editing system to modify the plant genes. Tomatoes are easier to grow because of a single mutation introduced into their genome, so the same mutation was made in the groundcherry plants.

"When you mutate the gene, it basically shrinks the plant like an accordion so you can make it much more compact," explained the co-leader of the work, Zachary Lippman, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Groundcherries / Image credit: MaxPixel

Lippman noted that only a few years ago, quinoa was considered an orphan crop - important locally but not used on a global scale. Considering how things have changed for that grain, we may see ground cherries everywhere soon enough. 

As time passes, humans are becoming increasingly reliant on a small number of foods. Experts have warned that as people move toward a ‘globalized diet,’ we threaten food security. A natural event impacting more than one crop, like major drought or disease, could pose a serious problem if we don’t introduce new foods to the market. To feed a growing population, we should look to other sources of sustenance.
  
Van Eck is hopeful that the tools they applied in this work can be applied to other plants. "We rely on just a handful of major food crops," she said, and it’s time to bring more diversity into our diets. If you think about agriculture going into the future, we need to have more tools in our toolbox," Lippman added. "And the more crops we have at our disposal, the more power we're going to have to address needs."

In the video above from Cell, Lippman discusses genetic modifications that have improved the tomato.


Sources: CNN, BBC, ITISNature Plants

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
NOV 20, 2018
Immunology
NOV 20, 2018
Survival of the SCID Patient
A team of scientists reviewed over 600 SCID patients medical records to establish the relationship between genetics and survival rates....
NOV 29, 2018
Videos
NOV 29, 2018
Screening IVF Embryos for Low IQ
A new test purports to be able to identify embryos with a high chance of having a low IQ....
DEC 29, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 29, 2018
Kidney Disease Risk Variant Found in New Populations
While we all carry the same genes in our genome, small variations within those genes can cause huge biological changes....
JAN 06, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 06, 2019
Exploring the Impact of Extensive Newborn Screening
While the exact number now varies by state, newborns are screened for several diseases. Should we be doing more?...
JAN 07, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 07, 2019
Glioblastoma Affects Men Differently Than Women
It's been established that men have slightly higher rates of cancer and a greater likelihood of dying from the disease. But why?...
JAN 16, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 16, 2019
Gene Therapy for a Leading Cause of Infant Death is Closer to Market
New treatments for some diseases can have extremely high price tags. One example is Zolgensma, which might cost $5 million per patient....
Loading Comments...