Scientists Are Hacking Tomatoes To Make Them Keep Growing All Night Long

Geneticists are working to circumvent the tomato’s circadian rhythm

Working under LED lighting in a tomato greenhouse in the Netherlands Ton Koene/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

The wonders of industrial agriculture have already given us the little red jewel that is the modern hot house tomato. They might look nice, but these plump, spongy fruits, bred to hold up in the truck, are tasteless. Now, scientists have a new trick in store for the tomato. They are working on a way to circumvent the tomato's natural need for rest and prodding tomato plants towards a full 24-hour growth cycle of staggering productivity.

Tomatoes, like most plants and animals, follow a circadian rhythm, a biological inner clock that tells them when to sleep and when to grow. But sleeping time is wasted time—so far as growers looking to maximize plant productivity are concerned—and, as Caleb Garling writes for Modern Farmer, geneticists have been hard at work trying to hack tomatoes into giving up their nap time.

According to new research, says Garling, geneticists have pinpointed a gene from wild tomatoes that deals how the plants handle light and have selectively bred it into modern hybrid tomatoes. This one little tweak caused a big jump in tomato productivity. The change, say the researchers in their study, “results in up to 20% yield increase, showing that limitations for crop productivity, caused by the adaptation of plants to the terrestrial 24-h day/night cycle, can be overcome.”