In a greenhouse in tropical southern Taiwan grows a small tree. From its hardy trunk sprout stems with wide, fuzzy leaves and sprays of white star-like flowers. Some of these flowers have already transformed into inedible green fruits about the size of marbles. Mohamed Rakha, a plant breeder here at the World Vegetable Center, splits open one of the fruits with his fingernail. “You can see a lot of seeds inside,” he says. Each one is packed with the plant’s DNA—and lots of potential.
Odd as it may seem, this fruit—a wild eggplant—is an ancient relative of the big purple eggplant sold in grocery stores worldwide.
At the World Vegetable Center, experts are studying a wide variety of eggplant relatives for their hardiness and ability to produce appealing, edible fruits—but it isn’t typical, business-as-usual breeding. Rather, plant breeders are on a mission to save the human diet from climate change.