The discovery of a gene that confers continuous light tolerance to wild tomato species could lead to substantial yield increases in commercial varieties, reports a study published this week in Nature Communications.
One of the major limitations for crop productivity is the amount of light available each day. Artificial lighting allows for longer periods of light exposure and energy production, but cultivated tomato plants often develop damaging leaf injuries under such conditions-a poorly understood phenomenon that has been the subject of intense study since the 1920s.
Aaron Velez-Ramirez and colleagues investigated why certain wild species of tomato are able to tolerate 24-hour lighting conditions. They pinpointed a gene called CAB-13 that had higher expression in wild species from South America than in domesticated varieties. They then transferred the gene to a modern cultivar and the new line performed better under continuous lighting, without affecting other aspects of development.
Researchers find that the ability to grow the plants under constant light-rather than the 16-hour light/8-hour dark cycles that are typical for tomatoes-leads to yield increases of almost 20%. The study not only has important implications for commercial growers, it also opens new avenues of research in photosynthesis.