Gene Edited Tomato Lowers Risk of Cancer and Heart Disease

At first glance, it looked like any other plant that can be found growing in the corners of offices or on the windowsills of university laboratories. But this particular tomato plant, grown in 2018 at the University of Minnesota, was different. The bushy tangle of elongated leaves and small red fruits were characteristic of a wild species of tomato plant native to Peru and Ecuador called Solanum pimpinellifolium, also known as the red currant tomato. A closer inspection, however, made the plant’s uniqueness more apparent.

Solanum pimpinellifolium

This particular plant was more compact, with fewer branches but more fruits than the wild tomato. Its fruits were also a little darker than was usual, a sign of increased lycopene – an antioxidant linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease. It had, in fact, been designed that way. The plant was created by geneticist Tomas Cermak and his colleagues with the use of Crispr gene editing, a Nobel Prize-winning technology which works like a “cut and paste” tool for genetic material. The technique is now revolutionising agriculture and helping create crops for the future. Cermak himself is on a mission to find a perfect tomato, one that would be easy to cultivate, nutritious and tasty, yet more adaptable to a changing climate. “The ideal plant would be resistant to all forms of stress — heat, cold, salt and drought, as well as to pests,” he says.

Climate change spells trouble for many crops, and tomatoes are no exception. Tomatoes don’t like heat, growing best between 18C (64F) and 25C (77F). Cross either side of that threshold and things start going downhill: pollen doesn’t form properly, the flowers don’t form into berries in the way they should. Once the mercury goes over 35C (95F)yields begin to collapse. A 2020 study showed that by mid-21st Century up to 66% of land in California historically used for growing tomatoes may no longer have temperatures appropriate for the crop. Other modelling studies suggest that by 2050 large swaths of land in Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa, India and Indonesia will also no longer have optimal climate for cultivation of tomatoes.

Of course, as average temperatures rise, other, previously too chilly regions, may become tomato-friendly. Yet observations in Italy show that weather extremes are something to consider, too. The 2019 growing season in northern Italy was marred by hail, strong winds, unusually high rainfall, and both exceptional frost and exceptional heat. The result was stressed tomato plants and poor harvests.

And there is more. Water scarcity, which forces farmers to use lower quality irrigation water, often containing salt, leads to increases in soil salinity – something commercial tomato cultivars don’t like. Higher ozone levels, meanwhile, make tomatoes more susceptible to diseases such as bacterial leaf spot.

Air Pollution Harms Your Brain And Your Intelligence

Chronic exposure to air pollution can cause harm to cognitive performance, a new study reveals. Researchers believe that the negative impact increases with age, and affects men with less education the worst. Over four years, the maths and verbal skills of some 20,000 people in China were monitored by the US-Chinese study.  Scientists believe the results have global relevance, with more than 80% of the world’s urban population breathing unsafe levels of air pollution.

The study was based on measurements of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter where participants lived. It is not clear how much each of these three pollutants is to blame. Carbon monoxide, ozone and larger particulates were not included in the study. Described as an invisible killer, air pollution causes an estimated seven million premature deaths a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

We provide evidence that the effect of air pollution on verbal tests becomes more pronounced as people age, especially for men and the less educated,” the study published  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) said.

Pollution also increases the risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the study suggests. Exposure to high levels of polluted aircan cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year…, which is huge,” one of the co-authors, Xi Chen of the Yale School of Public Health, told.

Previous studies found air pollution had a negative impact on students’ cognitive abilities. In this study, researchers tested people of both sexes aged 10 and above between 2010 and 2014, with 24 standardised maths questions and 34 word-recognition questions.