It gives fruit in just two months after planting, has an excellent fruit / leaf ratio and measures 4 cm high by 8 cm wide on average, making it suitable for cultivation in space stations.
The material was obtained from a cherry tomato cultivar, modifying one of the genes of a family that has been under study for 10 years, explains Dr. Martha Lucia Orozco, agricultural engineer at the National University of Colombia (UN) Headquarters Palmira and Ph. D. in Plant Physiology at the University of Washington.
The researcher and her working group have further developed the genetic engineering process to develop this plant in the Genetic Engineering Research Center of the University of California.
Dr. Orozco confirmed that it is the world's smallest tomato plant, even smaller than the Micro-Tom variety, which is mentioned in the scientific literature, and with which the control test was carried out.
Thanks to this finding, the research team was one of the two selected by NASA earlier this year to receive funding in the "Plants" category.
The tomato plant sparked the interest of the US agency, as in addition to potentially becoming a source of food in space, having the astronauts care for a living being could contribute to their emotional stability, said the expert.
This variety "flowers and grows roots like any other, but in a very small scale. Also remarkable is that it produces more seeds than cherry tomatoes," she said.
"A modern gene editing technique using CRISPR technology was implemented. What we did was to induce a mutation in one of the nucleotides of the gene that controls the plant's size," explained the researcher.
More resistant crops
In her career, she has obtained several patents for methods to improve the resistance and growth of plants under stress conditions. She has worked with tomato and potato plants, among other crops.
In previous research on tomato cultivation at Washington State University, Dr. Orozco helped identify a hormone polypeptide that moves from one cell to another to systemically activate plant defense responses to pests or stress.
With this finding, and by means of genetic engineering processes, the tomato's resistance to the pest Spodoptera spp. (one of the most damaging under greenhouse conditions worldwide) has been improved by about 80%.