Today’s Solutions: March 03, 2024

As crops become more and more resistant to pesticides, researchers are on the lookout for better alternatives that don’t require chemicals. At Michigan State University, researchers have identified an evolutionary function in wild tomato plants that modern plant breeders could use to create pest-resistant tomatoes. The study traced the evolution of a specific gene that produces a sticky compound in the tips of the trichomes, or hairs, on the Solanum pennelliiplant found in the Atacama desert of Peru—one of the harshest environments on Earth. These sticky hairs act as natural insect repellants to protect the plant, helping ensure it will survive to reproduce. Modern cultivated tomatoes make fewer of the compounds found in wild plants because—unaware of their adaptive function—breeders removed undesirable traits such as stickiness. This discovery is a step toward understanding the natural insect resistance of wild tomato plants, which could enable the introduction of this trait into cultivated tomatoes using traditional breeding practices in order to create pest-resistant tomatoes.

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