New project for enhanced salt tolerance in tomato plants

BMBF supports German-Brazilian research project with around €1.1 million

Tomato crops need a plentiful supply of water to thrive, which is why these plants require irrigation in many cases. Irrigation, however, can result in accumulation of salt in the soil and salinity is detrimental to plant development. Especially in dry areas, soil salinization results in heavy losses of crop yield. Scientists and breeders pin their hopes on breeding plants that can tolerate increased soil salinity. Scientists of the University of Münster (WWU) have started a German-Brazilian research project implementing two systematic approaches to better understand mechanisms of salt tolerance in tomato plants and to generate tomato lines with enhanced salt tolerance.

The project will be pursued by the group of Prof. Dr. Jörg Kudla at the Institute of Plant Biology and Biotechnology at the WWU in cooperation with scientists of the group of Dr. Lázaro Eustáquio Pereira Peres at the University of São Paulo. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supports this project (which is entitled "ESTASA - Enhancing salt tolerance in tomato crops for advancing sustainable agriculture and food production") for a term of three years with approximately €1.1 million.

The scientists are planning to use a salt tolerant wild species with tiny, but edible fruits. Using a new breeding approach, this wild tomato species will be crossed over several generations with selected varieties that are agriculturally used, leading to the domestication of this wild tomato. In this way, selected gene variants that are responsible for the development of numerous, large and flavourful fruits, will be successively transferred into the wild species. “With today’s knowledge and our aim to achieve salt tolerance, we emulate a time-lapse process of cultivation, as it has been practised by humans for hundreds of years”, explains project leader Jörg Kudla. “We are hoping for a salt tolerant variety with aromatic fruits of the size of cherry tomatoes, at the end of the funding period.”

At the same time, the scientists aim to investigate and better understand the molecular basis for salt tolerance in tomato plants. It is intended to utilize gene variants that contribute to salt tolerance for systematic breeding of salt tolerant tomato varieties. For this purpose, they will implement state-of-the-art biotechnological methods of genome editing.