Biology News Round-Up 14/11/17

This week, Jason has been scouring the world’s biology news in order to find the wildest, weirdest plant news.

Whilst Nastiya and Pam have been away for the last few months, the team has been meeting together online in order to keep the various projects moving along. Pam’s work in China has come to a head with some real progress made in the realms of power converters and Nastiya has likewise been aiding her own countrymen by finding new ways to cultivate hardier potatoes, so that they can find a way of pushing through Winter without the usual famines.

In the news this week, super-charged tomatoes have been harvested in far-flung Hong Kong, truffles are successfully bred in Wales and Uganda takes an important step towards GM foods.

The Super-Tomato has been found and it’s from Hong Kong

Plant scientists at the University of Hong Kong have successfully bred what can only be described as a super-tomato. A research group working within the School of Biological Sciences has found a new method of simultaneously boosting the levels of several health-promoting properties of an otherwise tomato. By manipulating certain isoprenoid pathways within the transgenic tomatoes, these canny scientists discovered that inserting a certain strand of DNA (originally found in Indian Mustard – a plant used to make vegetable oil) led to a drastic increase in Vitamin E (494%) and provitamin A (169%).

Professor Chye Mee-len, leader of the team, said: ‘The accumulation of the healthy components in food crops would provide added-value to fruits and vegetables in the human diet, as well as enrich feed for livestock and aquaculture.’

Rare truffle species cultivated in chilly Wales

The demand for truffle has been growing exponentially over the last few years, with the current worth of the ingredient estimated at being around £1,700 per kilogram. The plant usually grows in warm climates and is notoriously tricky to cultivate even when in its natural habitat – that hasn’t stopped Dr Paul Thomas of the University of Stirling spending nearly 10 years to cultivate a Perigord black truffle in Wales, the furthest North that this species has been discovered.

The truffle was harvested from the root system of a Mediterranean oak planted in 2008 that was treated to encourage truffle production. By reducing the level of acidity in the surrounding soil, these scientists were able to mimic the growing conditions of the truffle’s natural Mediterranean clime.

Uganda takes important step towards ending food drought

Uganda has been taking the first tentative steps towards growing and developing their own GM crops that could see the food problems in the country being eradicated for good. This week, bills have been passed in the Ugandan government allowing companies to undertake large-scale tests which should pave the way for the commercial release of genetically modified foods.

Progress in this field has been blocked in recent years by critics who have suggested that the country’s food security could be compromised if foreign companies are allowed to experiment on home soil, however these fears have been counteracted by Science minister Elioda Tumwesigye who has stated that a seed bank can be opened to protect the nation’s indigenous species.