University of Newcastle researchers have achieved a major scientific breakthrough in the quest to protect crop longevity, yield and quality.
Scientists at the University-based Australia-China Research Centre for Crop Improvement have identified a gene in tomatoes that can be 'knocked-out' to create sweeter fruit and longer-lasting leaves.
The gene - INVINH1 - played a major role in limiting the amount of sugar delivered to each part of the plant and if prevented from expressing itself more sugar (glucose and fructose) could be delivered to specific parts of the plants including seeds and fruits. When applied to other fruits and vegetables, the technology could increase crop seed yield, fruit quality, and lengthen shelf life.
Centre Director Associate Professor Yong-Ling Ruan, from the University's School of Environmental and Life Sciences, said the discovery resulted from a need to consider the long-term security of food supply.
"With predictions the global population may double over the next 50 years, scientists are concerned about the pressure on the world’s natural resources," Associate Professor Ruan said.
"Faced with the impact of climate change and population increases on food supply, our research is helping to meet the challenge of how to sustain and improve crop yield and quality."
The research has been published in the July 2009 edition of The Plant Cell, the world's top ranking plant science journal.
The Australia-China Research Centre for Crop Improvement was established in October 2008 and is hosted by the University of Newcastle and the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Hangzhou, China. Partner groups also include the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Zhejiang University.
"A major focus of the Centre is to improve the productivity of key food crops and make them more adaptable to climate change," Associate Professor Ruan said.
"The breakthrough is an exciting development that has resulted from the collaborative focus of the Centre.
"It is this kind of research we hope will lead to improved crops that could help feed and clothe millions of people in a time of climate crisis."
For interviews: Associate Professor Yong-Ling Ruan on 02 4921 7958.