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Implanted gene may help crops survive freeze


January 28, 1999
Web posted at: 12:11 p.m. EST (1711 GMT)

HAYWARD, California (CNN) -- California researchers say they have found a gene that could help protect fruit and vegetable plants from freezing weather.

Scientists at Mendel Biotechnology said they have isolated a gene from the mustard plant, or Arabidopsis, that helps other genes in the plant adapt to sudden temperature drops.

The researchers' goal is to implant this "freezing tolerance" gene in crop plants to help them survive unexpected low temperatures.

mustard plants in lab
Scientists isolated the freeze resistant gene from mustard plants  

The method would be natural and the produce would be safe to consume, the scientists said.

"It's the same thing plant breeders have been doing for a long time, which is reshuffling genes and finding combinations that give a better plant," said Michael Fromm of Mendel Biotechnology.

Mendel scientists say they'll first test the gene on canola and soy crops.

If the tests prove successful, farmers may be able to use the new technology within the next four years.

In December, California's orange growers lost at least 50 percent of their crops, or more than half a billion dollars, to freezing weather.

Reporter Sue Kwon of CNN affiliate KRON contributed to this report.

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