Positive spin on genetic manipulation has always been that the science is needed if we are to have any hope of feeding our expanding world population. While most new products seem more poised to provide financial security to patent and share holders, a new tomato plant engineered to grow in saline soil seems aimed at an altruistic end.
A team of U.S. and Canadian scientists created a tomato that can produce fruit in soil 50 times saltier than the plant typically prefers. Worldwide, millions of acres of irrigated farmland are lost to production each year because irrigation water contains various salts, which build up on the land over time as a result of evaporation. Salt wreaks havoc on plants by upsetting their ability to draw water through their roots. The GM tomato is equipped with a transporter protein that carries salt to vacules in the leaves.
Proponents say the fruit tastes the same as regular tomatoes and claim that by removing salt from the soil, the genetic hybrids will desalinate irrigated land.
Opponents hold that overirrigated farmlands are disturbed ecosystems and need better management practices. Further, farmers in these areas, many of whom are in Third-World countries, might come to depend on agricultural products for which world demand is tenuous.
"It's potentially a Band-Aid," said Mark Lipson of the Organic Farming Research Foundation. "But it's not a long-term solution."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 10/p. 16