The Bs2 gene, which occurs naturally in peppers, has shown to provide excellent disease control in tomatoes. The Two Blades Foundation, a charitable scientific organization, which holds an exclusive license to the Bs2 gene, has collaborated with the University of Florida to breed tomatoes with the Bs2 transgene to further study the effects on the gene in tomatoes.
Samuel Hutton, University of Florida assistant professor in tomato breeding and genetics, shed some light on a bacterial spot trial underway that uses Bs2, and how the genetically engineered tomato plant seems to show great resistance.
“This gene in pepper is one of the major genes for control of bacterial spot disease,which is not only a major problem in peppers, but also a major problem in tomatoes,” says Hutton. “Unlike pepper breeders, we tomato breeders don’t have as many genes such as this to use. We don’t have any genes like the Bs2 gene that works this well. So we took that gene from pepper, we engineered it into tomatoes, and now this tomato is producing the same gene that’s in our bell pepper varieties. It’s given us a really high level of resistance. And when we’ve done this trial in the past, our varieties that contained this Bs2 transgene typically yield twice as much as the same exact varieties without that transgene.”
Hutton says that bacterial spot disease is an extremely common problem that can result in about 50 percent loss of tomato yields. It is a problem experienced every year around early fall and late spring.
But before the trials can move into the regulation process, Hutton says there is a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid before the process can begin. He says work is in the final stages, but significant financial investment is required to go through the deregulation process.
But even after the process is funded, the question still remains of who will grow the Bs2 transgene tomatoes. Hutton says various growers “are all interested in this as a green technology to help them cut their costs, boost their yields, protect the environment and reduce copper sprays. But the growers are hesitant to sign on because many of their customers demand GMO-free products. And as long as the customers demand that, then growers might not have an avenue for selling their product.” Hutton concluded with saying that most of the growers would say they are 100 percent behind the product, if they can be guaranteed consumers would buy their product.
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