The University of Chile is stepping up its research to develop tomato and kiwi varieties that are more tolerant of saline lands while requiring less water. They are also studying the development of biostimulants to be used on plants, making them more tolerant to drought- and saline-related stress.

Dubbed the Planta-Con-Ciencia Project, the initiative is a collaborative research among the National Agency for Research and Development (ANID), the University of Chile's Center for Plant Molecular Biology of the Faculty of Sciences, the Institute of Agricultural Research and Development (INIA La Cruz) and the Arturo Prat University. The objective is to seek scientific solutions to develop more resilient and sustainable agriculture brought about by the increase of land affected by drought and salinity stresses that leads to a decrease in crop yield.

The researchers focused on the development of two crops, tomato and kiwi, using the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic engineering technique. For tomato, they chose the Poncho Negro variety known to have high resistance to salinity and the effect of heavy metals. Kiwis, on the other hand, will be used to study increased tolerance to salinity and drought using Hayward commercial kiwi plants, a variety used as rootstocks.

The research simultaneously comes with a study on environment-friendly biomodulators that can be applied directly to tomato and other plants to help increase their resistance to abiotic stress. Growth-promoting rhizobacteria and plant metabolites will be used as the basis for this study component.

The lead researcher stated that they are using biotechnology to seek ways to contribute to sustainable agriculture by improving Chile's fruit varieties that bring economic value to the country. The project will be accompanied by an information campaign to disseminate information about the importance of science and technology to promote sustainable agriculture and the effects of climate change.

(Source: Crop Biotech Update, International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.