ISLAMABAD   -  Progeny of novel combination is more vigorous and productive than parental plants. Novel grafted plants — consisting of rootstock epigenetically modified to “believe” it has been under stress — joined to an unmodified scion, or above-ground shoot, give rise to progeny that are more vigorous, productive, and resilient than the parental plants. That is the surprising finding of a team of researchers that conducted large-scale field trials with tomato plants at three widely separated locations over multiple plant generations. They contend that the discovery, which came from a collaboration between Penn State, the University of Florida and a small start-up company in Nebraska, has major implications for plant breeding.

Because the technique involves epigenetics — manipulating the expression of existing genes and not the introduction of new genetic material from another plant — crops bred using this technology could sidestep controversy associated with genetically modified organisms and food. That is the hope of research team leader Sally Mackenzie, professor of plant science in the College of Agricultural Sciences and professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science at Penn State.