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A rare fruit could wind up in U.S. stores in the near future after scientists spliced its DNA to make it heartier and more efficient. It's called the groundcherry, and its success could lead to the modification of more rare fruits and vegetables.
Found in Central and South America, the groundcherry grows in a husk like a tomatillo but tastes a bit like a pineapple. Occasionally found at farmers markets, it's known as an "orphan crop," a plant too finicky for mass production.
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For one, groundcherries often fall to the ground before they're ripe, hence the name, CNN reported, and its plant is unwieldy. But knowing which genes aid tomato plants, scientists at New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory tweaked the groundcherry's DNA to produce a plant both larger and more fruitful.
They did this using CRISPR, a gene-editing tool used also to produce low-fat pigs and reprogram cells for cancer treatments.
By curtailing hormones tied to the plant's flowering, scientists made the plant more compact and its fruit more abundant: The mutated groundcherry produced up to 50 percent more fruit than the natural version. They also ramped up the fruit's seedy sections, increasing its size by 24 percent.
The result: a fruit that grows more easily and often. Scientists now want to fiddle with with the groundcherry's color and taste in a bid to make the protein- and fiber-packed fruit more palatable to consumers, CNN reported.
The team of scientists detailed their process in a study published Monday in Nature Plants.
And with similarly effective gene edits, scientists believe they could improve more otherwise rare and unheard of fruits and vegetables for the masses.
"This is pretty good proof that with gene editing you can think about bringing other wild plants or orphan crops into agricultural production," Zachary Lippman, a plant biologist with the lab, said in a release.
"The more arrows we have in our quiver to address agricultural needs in the future, the better off we're going to be."