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Sacramento's tomato scent, taste, and climate change food insecurity

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In the midst of climate change, Sacramento's famous reputation for growing tomatoes is the current topic on growing tasty tomatoes at the University of California, Davis. In fact, it's all about genes. The genome of Solanum pennellii, a wild relative of the domestic tomato, has been published by an international group of researchers including labs at the UC Davis Department of Plant Biology. The new genome information may help breeders produce tastier, more stress-tolerant tomatoes.
The genome of Solanum pennellii, a wild relative of the domestic tomato, has been published by an international group of researchers including the labs headed by Professors Neelima Sinha and Julin Maloof at the UC Davis Department of Plant Biology. The new genome information may help breeders produce tastier, more stress-tolerant tomatoes.

Björn Usadel and colleagues at Aachen University in Germany lead the work, which appears online July 27, 2014 in the journal Nature Genetics. The UC Davis labs carried out work on the transcriptome of S. pennellii — the RNA molecules that are transcribed from DNA and then translated into proteins — messages written from DNA and taken to other parts of the cell to tell it what to do. Analyzing the RNA transcriptome shows which genes are active under different circumstances. The UC Davis team published a paper last year comparing the RNA transcripts of domestic tomato and three wild relatives, including S. pennellii, according to a July 28, 2014 news release, "Stress-tolerant tomato relative sequenced."

Inedible plant can be interbred with domestic tomatoes to introduce traits such as drought resistance, but with this genetically changed tomato influence your health in any way? Which counts most, the health of the crop or your health? S. pennellii is inedible, but it can be interbred with domestic tomatoes to introduce useful traits, such as drought resistance. Using the new genome data, the researchers found genes related to dehydration resistance, fruit development and fruit ripening. But the change is related to fruit flavor and odor. How do you want your tomato to taste and smell? Like a tomato.

Researchers also found genes that contribute to volatile compounds related to fruit scent and flavor. A grant from the National Science Foundation supported the University of California, Davis portion of the work. For more information, you may wish to check out the UC Davis Charles M. Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center and/or The Tomato Anatomy Atlas.

Meanwhile at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), another new study shows how climate change and air pollution continues to curb food supplies and security

Many studies have shown the potential for global climate change to cut food supplies. But these studies have, for the most part, ignored the interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution -- specifically ozone pollution, which is known to damage crops. A new study involving researchers at MIT shows that these interactions can be quite significant, suggesting that policymakers need to take both warming and air pollution into account in addressing food security.

The study, "Threat to future global food security from climate change and ozone air pollution," appearing July 28, 2014 online in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked in detail at global production of four leading food crops — rice, wheat, corn, and soy — that account for more than half the calories humans consume worldwide. It predicts that effects will vary considerably from region to region, and that some of the crops are much more strongly affected by one or the other of the factors: For example, wheat is very sensitive to ozone exposure, while corn is much more adversely affected by heat. You also may wish to check out the website, "MIT Center for Global Change Science."

Ozone and higher temperatures can combine to reduce crop yields, but effects will vary by region. Many studies have shown the potential for global climate change to cut food supplies. But these studies have, for the most part, ignored the interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution — specifically ozone pollution, which is known to damage crops.

The new study involving researchers at MIT shows that these interactions can be quite significant, suggesting that policymakers need to take both warming and air pollution into account in addressing food security

Colette Heald, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT, former CEE postdoc Amos Tai, and Maria van Martin at Colorado State University carried out the research. Their work, "Threat to future global food security from climate change and ozone air pollution," is described in the journal Nature Climate Change in the study published July 28, 2014. Heald explains, according to the July 27, 2014 news release, "Study: Climate change and air pollution will combine to curb food supplies," that while it's known that both higher temperatures and ozone pollution can damage plants and reduce crop yields, "nobody has looked at these together." And while rising temperatures are widely discussed, the impact of air quality on crops is less recognized.

The effects are likely to vary widely by region, the study predicts. In the United States, tougher air-quality regulations are expected to lead to a sharp decline in ozone pollution, mitigating its impact on crops. But in other regions, the outcome "will depend on domestic air-pollution policies," Heald says in the news release. "An air-quality cleanup would improve crop yields."

Overall, with all other factors being equal, warming may reduce crop yields globally by about 10 percent by 2050, the study found. But the effects of ozone pollution are more complex — some crops are more strongly affected by it than others — which suggests that pollution-control measures could play a major role in determining outcomes.

Ozone pollution can also be tricky to identify, Heald says in the news release, because its damage can resemble other plant illnesses, producing flecks on leaves and discoloration

Potential reductions in crop yields are worrisome: The world is expected to need about 50 percent more food by 2050, the authors say, due to population growth and changing dietary trends in the developing world. So any yield reductions come against a backdrop of an overall need to increase production significantly through improved crop selections and farming methods, as well as expansion of farmland.

While heat and ozone can each damage plants independently, the factors also interact. For example, warmer temperatures significantly increase production of ozone from the reactions, in sunlight, of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. Because of these interactions, the team found that 46 percent of damage to soybean crops that had previously been attributed to heat is actually caused by increased ozone. You also may wish to check out the website of the "Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab."

Under some scenarios, the researchers found that pollution-control measures could make a major dent in the expected crop reductions following climate change. For example, while global food production was projected to fall by 15 percent under one scenario, larger emissions decreases projected in an alternate scenario reduce that drop to 9 percent.

Rates of malnourishment might increase from 18 to 27 percent by 2050

Air pollution is even more decisive in shaping undernourishment in the developing world, the researchers found: Under the more pessimistic air-quality scenario, rates of malnourishment might increase from 18 to 27 percent by 2050 — about a 50 percent jump. Under the more optimistic scenario, the rate would still increase, but that increase would almost be cut in half, they found.

Agricultural production is "very sensitive to ozone pollution," Heald says, according to the news release, adding that these findings "show how important it is to think about the agricultural implications of air-quality regulations. Ozone is something that we understand the causes of, and the steps that need to be taken to improve air quality." The National Science Foundation, the National Park Service, and the Croucher Foundation supported this research.

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