Gene editing opens doors to seedless fruit with no need for bees | GMOs, NBT & Sustainable agriculture |

Don’t like the seeds in tomatoes? You might be pleased to know that seedless ones have been created by gene editing. The technique will make it possible to make a much wider range of seedless fruits than is currently available – and also means farmers might not have to rely on declining bee populations. Whether we ever see such fruits on supermarket shelves, however, may depend on how regulators decide to treat gene-edited crops. Several types of seedless fruits, from bananas to cucumbers to grapes, are already widely available, but many have come about by luck rather than design. Seedless bananas are the result of accidental crosses between subspecies, for instance, while other seedless fruits stem from spontaneous mutations. There are a few seedless varieties of tomato, but they have taken breeders many years to create. Now Keishi Osakabe at Tokushima University in Japan and his colleagues have used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to deliberately introduce a mutation that makes tomatoes seedless. The mutation increases levels of a hormone called auxin, which stimulates fruits to develop even though no seeds have begun to form. The precise nature of the CRISPR technique meant that no mutations were introduced into other parts of the plant genome. The only obvious difference is that the mutant plant’s leaves had simpler, less intricate shapes than normal, because higher auxin levels also affect the formation of leaves. “We haven’t tasted them yet, but in theory they should taste the same,” says Osakabe. Gene-edited seedless tomatoes don’t need pollinating to produce fruit – which could come in useful at a time when bees are on the decline