Gene Transfer Process Generates Seedless Summer Days

April 24, 1998

MANHATTAN, Kans. -- You're at a summer picnic when invariably you're faced with an important decision -- what to do with the seeds from the watermelon you are enjoying. Should you just spit them on the ground, into a napkin or -- much to your mother's chagrin -- swallow them?

A process used by a Kansas State University assistant professor of biology may be the answer to this question of etiquette. Yi Li has successfully used gene transfer techniques to produce seedless tomato fruits and is currently working on the production of seedless watermelons.

Under natural circumstances, pollination is essential to produce normal watermelons and other fruits. However, factors such as temperature, insects, drought and unfavorable weather can affect pollination and reduce the productivity of those fruits.

Using the gene transfer process, Li is able to bypass Mother Nature by inserting a fusion gene into a fruit plant. This insertion will subsequently lead to the production of a plant hormone called auxin that will stimulate fruit growth and development without pollination or production of seeds.

"By doing this we can produce normal or larger-sized fruits without pollination," Li said. "Because there is no pollination of the fruit, the watermelon therefore will be seedless.

Li believes it should be useful to produce seedless watermelons because of a heavy consumer demand due to a better taste and a possible extended shelf life.

Costs associated with seedless and regular watermelons are quite different, according to Li. Currently the seedless varieties are more expensive because of higher costs associated with the production of plants that can produce seedless fruits. This translates into higher prices for the fruits in the stores. Li is hopeful the process will in the future reduce the price of seedless fruits.

Despite the fruits being seedless, Li said ways exist to produce seeds from seedless plants. These seeds will in turn produce seedless fruits.

According to Li, poor pollination is a major cause of incomplete and undersized fruits for tomatoes and many other fruit crops. In addition to having a more appealing taste, Li said the seedless tomatoes contain between 50 to 100 percent higher solids.

"High solid contents of tomatoes are desirable and economically beneficial to the tomato processing industry," Li said. "Our technique can reduce the yield-loss problem caused by poor pollination."

Li said the same gene transfer process can be used to produce seedless cucumbers, cherries green peppers and eggplants.
-end-


Kansas State University

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