A Look at Genetically Engineered Vegetables

A behind-the-scenes investigation of genetically engineered plants.


| February/March 1995



148-055-01

Plant geneticist John Stommel is trying to breed an orange tomato with higher beta-carotene content.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

A meal of soup and salad is a healthy pairing—but either component can get boring very quickly. A bowl of red lentil soup might be more exciting, though. Or how about a tossed salad of bright orange tomatoes, chocolate-colored bell pepper rings, and wedges of blue lettuce garnished with maroon carrot curls? If that sounds more like your kind of meal, then you'll love what agricultural researchers have in store for you.

"The trend in gardening—both home and commercial—is toward more and more variety," says Larry Kampa, Advertising Manager at Petoseed Company, Inc., a commercial hybrid vegetable breeding corporation. "The selection in size, shape, and color will only get broader."

Though maroon carrots are still under development, seeds are available to home gardeners for many varieties of vegetables you won't see in the supermarket any time soon. Petoseed Company, which sells its seeds for home gardening through consumer seed companies like Burpee, is especially proud of two American Award Selections it introduced in 1994: the "Big Beef" tomato and "Fanfare," a hybrid cucumber. Fanfare produces a large, better quality yield on compact vines, while Big Beef combines good taste and continuous setting with uniform size.

Taste, shape, and most recently, color variations make the new generation of vegetables as much a coffee table accessory as part of the afternoon meal. "Purple Blush" is an eggplant with a lavender shading on white skin and a sweeter taste, while "Roly Poly" zucchini is a round squash the size of a grapefruit. Giant peppers like "Great Stuff" and "Peto Wonder" contrast beautifully with curious miniatures like "Jingle Bells" (sweet pepper) and "Bambino" eggplant.

New Strawberry Varieties

The USDA's Agricultural Research Service has recently released two new strawberry varieties, "Redgem" and "Bountiful." They retain much more of their original shape, color, and texture after being frozen than most other strawberries available to home gardeners, and are especially suited for preserves or for adding to pies, ice cream, and other foods.

All these new varieties represent the bottom line for plant research: an improved product. For example, one of the few nice things you can say about commercial tomatoes shipped for market across the country is that their size is uniform. Many homegrown tomatoes, such as the beefsteak, have been "rough"—oddly shaped, short, or squat. With "Big Beef," researchers at Petoseed maintain the taste of the beefsteak, while introducing a uniform size. Other products cater to the nation's requirements for compactness, disease resistance, flavor, and eye appeal.





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