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Startup says it can breed tomatoes on demand

California startup Sound Agriculture is launching a pilot project with its new tomato, which it says has been bred quickly using epigenetic techniques to be both flavorful and durable.

If you take the seeds of a grape from France, transport them across the Atlantic, and plant them in Missouri, California, or Oregon, they’ll all have basically the same set of genes. But if you wait a few years and then eat the grapes or drink the wine grown from those original seeds or their descendants, you might notice that the flavors might be vastly different, thanks to the impact of what’s in the soil or what the weather was like when the grapes were grown.

In some cases, after a few generations, if you were to take the seeds of the Californian descendants of the original French seeds, you might find that even when grown on French soil, they still taste more like the ones grown in California than grapes with seeds that have always been grown in France, even though they’ll still likely have the same set of genes.

To biologists, this is called epigenetics–when environmental changes impact how genes are turned on and off in DNA, impacts that can even be heritable across generations. And it’s this process that California-based agtech startup Sound Agriculture aims to take advantage of to make a tomato that has the durability of what you’d typically buy at the grocery store with the flavor of something you’d buy at the farmer’s market.

“To our knowledge, this will be the first product that has actually been bred with epigenetics to get to consumers,” says Travis Bayer, the company’s chief technology officer.

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