Biotech Updates

USDA ARS Scientists Genetically Engineer Ever-Flowering Fruit to Feed Astronauts

November 3, 2021

ARS plant molecular biologist Chris Dardick evaluates a continuous flowering plum plant. Photo by Stephen Ausmus

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have worked with NASA to develop a continuous flowering plum plant to help astronauts maintain healthy diets during those extended voyages.

According to Chris Dardick, lead scientist and plant molecular biologist at the ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station, most fruits that are key components of our diet, such as apples, pears, peaches, cherries, grapes, plums, raspberries, oranges, and bananas grow on trees or vines that take years to grow. These fruit trees also require long periods of cold annually to flower and renew their growth.

Dardick's team borrowed an idea from a common backyard garden staple, the tomato. Their team genetically engineered plum trees to continually flower and produce fruit like a tomato plant. They over-expressed a key flowering regulator gene that causes the plum trees to flower all the time, eliminating the need for cold dormancy. This technology does not only offer the potential to grow fruit on long-duration space missions, it could also be used on Earth in indoor or urban farms.

For more details, read the article on the USDA ARS website.

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