Biotech Updates

UALR Tomato: Potential for Drought, Disease Resistance, and Space Agriculture?

May 8, 2009

Have you ever imagined a tomato plant growing on Mars? It might come to reality since scientists from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) are developing a tomato plant that will grow in space and will withstand droughts and diseases when planted on earth. The Arkansas Space Grant Consortium funded the three year research to provide fresh produce for astronauts on extended missions to Mars. The research aimed to develop crops resistant to drought and diseases while improving its nutritional value.

Dr. Mariya Khodakovskaya, assistant professor of applied science, and Dr. Stephen Grace, associate professor of biology at UALR, are preparing to patent ways to increase antioxidant production in drought and disease tolerant plants. Their transgenic tomatoes show dramatic increases in drought tolerance, vegetative biomass and fruit lycopene concentration. Lycopene is essential in preventing cancer and chronic diseases. Dr. Khodakovskaya will identify key genes and gene networks pertaining to stress tolerance and activation of antioxidant production in tomato plants. "As soon as we develop a new tomato with drought tolerance and more antioxidants, we will test how it grows in space conditions," Khodakovskaya said.

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