Improving the Tomato Genome by breeding with wild tomatoes [2017]

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Solanum peruvianum (wild tomato with desert tolerance)

So i haven’t written a blog post in some time. Sorry about that. It has been very hectic this year. That’s not to say that i’m completely dead. And despite my busyness and absence i am still dabbling a little bit in the garden and plant breeding scene. I didn’t have the time, energy, or space to work on my purple Indian Corn or Teosinte this year. I barely made room for beans, peas, tomatoes, and a row of watermelon.

The beans are my special four corners native beans which include, New Mexico Red Appaloosa (aka. Gila River bean), Anasazi, Zuni Gold, Rio Zape, and maybe a few others. The Peas are a large growout of my 17-23 different varieties of genetically unique and rare pea varieties, some of which are segregating crosses that i did two seasons ago. And tough i don’t have many pictures i will post one below of a purple podded umbellatum-type (aka. crown pea) where all the pods come out in a jumble all at once. To have a purple podded one of these is new and kind of cool. I hope to have a yellow and red-podded umbellatum-type pea someday. The watermelon are the result of mine and Joseph Lofthouse’s Watermelon Landrace project. Joseph Lofthouse seems to be world famous now for his widely successful landrace seed varieties and breeding techniques.

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Purple Podded Umbellatum Crown Pea

Anyway, back to the tomatoes. The Tomatoes are a brand new project and sort of an offshoot of one of Joseph’s new landrace breeding projects as well and a few other fellow collaborators and breeders as well. It all started when Joseph was working on wanting to convert tomatoes to a landrace like many of his other successful crops. But there are a number of problems with that and domestic tomatoes in general.

The first problem is that domestic tomatoes are entirely self pollinating and don’t outcross all that much and have tiny closed-up flowers. Another problem is that domestic tomato flowers are not very attractive to pollinators. And the third major problem is that domestic tomatoes went through several genetic bottleneck selection events when they were domesticated that they have a very narrow genetic base. This narrow genetic base means that 1. Most tomatoes are subject to easily succumbing to disease and 2. that when they do outcross there is not much variation anyway. An average bad-tasting disease susceptible red tomato that crosses with another average bad-tasting disease susceptible red tomato means that in the end all you really get is more of the same.

My interest in all of this starts with the basic fact that in my climate here in Northern Colorado with my soil (mostly a dry clayish sandy soil where mostly desert plants grow), and the high altitude with intense sunlight and UV and the dry wind that wicks moisture out of the ground means that most garden varieties of anything don’t do all that well here unless intensely babied. This applies most especially to tomatoes. Even worse when it comes to Heirloom tomatoes. Sure heirloom tomatoes generally taste better, but to have a tomatoe plant produce like ONE good tomato through a whole season… That’s a MAJOR FAILURE in my book.

There are lots of tomato freaks out there that try to tell me that here in Colorado i can grow ANY tomato variety and be successful. And while that might be true if i replaces all my soil with compost or potting mix and provided massive amounts of water, and started them all early and planted them all out perfectly then yes maybe that would be true. But that’s not what i want to do, not should i have to do that. I should be able to just start a tomato plant and plant it where i want and not have to worry about it all that much and have it produce a decent harvest (whatever that happens to be). And not have to worry about disease, or growing slow, or not being adapted to my soil or the intense UV light or whatever. That’s where all this plant breeding comes in.

The goal(s)

  • To breed a superior tomato variety that does well for me (in dry N. Colorado)
  • To increase the genetic diversity in the tomato genome by using wild tomatoes
  • To create or recreate a tomato that is highly attractive to pollinators
  • To create a population of tomatoes that are highly outcrossing
  • To create a tomato that i actually think tastes good and NOT like cardboard

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wild tomato seeds. photo courtesy of Joseph Lofthouse

This project is still in it’s early stage, but it is progressing nicely. On Joseph’s end he is having huge success by using wild tomatoes bred with domestic tomatoes that have large showy flowers with exerted stigmas and have lots of pollen available that make them attractive to bumblebees. He is using mostly Solanum habrochaites but is starting to branch out to other wild tomatoes as well. Others are working on breeding tomatoes that produce a good harvest in under 100 days from being direct seeded and that have frost tolerance.

On my end i am experimenting with as many wild tomatoes that i can. I am evaluating several accessions of wild Galapagos tomatoes which so far are not doing much. The S. habrochaites also are not doing much. The ones i am having excitement from are the Solanum peruvianum which have silvery leaves and desert tolerance (in the roots) and a F1 hybrid between a domestic tomato and Solanum pennellii which has a different form of desert tolerance (in the leaves). I am excited about these genetics since they seem to be growing very well in my garden. The largest of any of my tomatoes is this F1 hybrid of S. pennellii. It is HUGE!!

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F1 hybrid between domestic tomato and Solanum pennellii
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Flowers of an F1 hybrid between domestic tomato and Solanum pennellii
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F2 cross of domestic tomato and Solanum habrochaites

Do you speak Esperanto?

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Do you speak Esperanto?

So today i finally got around to 1. 3D printing a full Zamenhof statue. but also 2. finishing the Esperanto Scrabble Tiles for those who want to play a game of Skrablo with friends or those learning and practicing their Esperanto vocabulary (like i need to do).

That reminds me… my Esperanto is a bit rusty. I need to get back to practicing it. Maybe i should finally put in the effort to arrange a meeting for the local Esperanto group which so far has failed to meet in several years. hmm….. it seems when it comes to Esperanto, my head is a bit empty as well…

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A Teosinte Christmas in Colorado

So, i know I’ve blogged a bit about experimentally growing Teosinte in my post about growing prehistoric corn and also in my post about differences between teosinte species. Both posts have gotten quite a bit of traffic over the years and have brought people to my blog who are interested in Teosinte specifically.

For those of you who don’t know Teosinte is a progenitor to modern Corn (Also known as Maize), which is still able to interbreed with Corn. Some teosinte is annual, while others are perennial (or maybe bi-annual). There are many people who are interested in breeding perennial teosinte with corn to make perennial or bi-annual corn.

The major problem with trying to grow Teosinte in a moderate climate as here in Colorado in the United States is that it is adapted to grow in the climate of mexico and our growing season just isn’t really long enough. Even more so since Teosinte is day-length sensitive and does not even start to tassel, silk, and pollinate until the days get short and the sunlight shifts deeper into the red spectrum. By the time that happens here it is usually around August and often we get snow by September or October. Definitely not enough time for Teosinte or Corn seeds to mature and dry down for saving. …Or is it?!

Well, this year it just happened to turn out just barely long enough. I’m calling it my Christmas miracle! haha. I think it was a combination of it being a La Nina weather year with an unusually warm fall with no snow until here in December. But also with the fact that i dug up my clump of teosinte plants and put them in a pot in the garage. Though they were a bit unhappy in the garage and were touching the ceiling.

Still i was able to keep them in there long enough to hand pollinate them. But to be honest i thought i had again failed to get viable Teosinte seeds. But when the plants were dead i went out and happened to find some! Above is a picture of what i believe to be seeds of ‘Zea mexicana’ teosinte seeds.

If there is one moral of this story that you should take away it is this: Never give up even when everyone else thinks you are crazy or tell you that what you believe is impossible. I learned this in gardening from my friend Joseph Lofthouse of Utah. He has had success with so many of his unusual crops that no one else in his valley of Utah is able to grow. He often starts with many varieties of a plant as possible and grows as many as he can. Often more than 90% of them die or fail to produce seeds. But he only needs a few that do. Once he gets seeds he can start to effort to plant them year after year and adapt them to his climate. If they still fail to thrive he lets them die or culls them off himself. But he has a variety of unusual crops, such as Landrace Watermelon adapted to Utah (and by extension Colorado), Landrace Cantaloupe, Landrace inter-species hybrid squashes, Tomatoes that are self-incompatible and are highly attractive to bees (modern tomatoes are not at all and are highly inbred), and more.

 

On the left here is a photo of one small cob of a teosinte hybrid (zea diploperennis-corn hybrid from the USDA) pollinated with what i believe to be flour or field corn pollen. On the right is the same teosinte-corn hybrid cob line but i believe this one was self pollinated with its own pollen. It seems to have popcorn heritage as the seeds show popcorn / flint corn characteristics.

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Here is another strain of day-length neutral teosinte (decended from Zea mexicana) that a collaborator Joseph Lofthouse of Utah is growing and having success with. I believe he got the seed originally from NativeseedsSEARCH in Arizona. He decided to test if it makes good popcorn.

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Here is my Teosinte clump in the summer of 2016.

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Here is the same spot with snow on it now in winter.

If you’d like to follow the discussion about growing teosinte in places it is not normally supposed to grow (or other unusual crops) then visit the Alan Bishop Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum here!

Bitten by the Electronics Bug

So recently I’ve been bitten by the project bug again. And quite a bit by electronics hobby-type stuff again in particular, though not exclusively. More blog posts and updates to come soon.

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On the left is my old homemade DIY arduino based avr high voltage programmer made on old Hewlett Packard Engineering Protoboard based off of Jeff’s original design that i made in 2011. On the right is my brand new updated model named the AVR HV Rescue Shield 2 from MightyOhm.com. It’s main function is to help reset the fuses on AVR chips when you program them wrong. My old one came in handy and has saved a few chips from time to time. The new one obviously is better, mostly because now that i’m tinkering more with attiny85V chips i now have a High Voltage Rescue shield for them too, though it also does not require an external 12VDC power source as it has some sort of built in surface mount step up voltage chip.

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So as briefly mentioned above i’ve been tinkering with trying to program attiny85v AVR chips. I’ve dug out my old trusty USBtinyISP AVR Programmer and I’ve recently gotten a Sparkfun Tiny AVR Programmer.

What i’m really intending to do is make a shrunk down version of my old Mystery Project by re-purposing and reprogramming my Adafruit TV-b-gone kit. I just need to get the frequency right. I’m starting by seeing if i can compile and upload the tvbgone AVR/arduino code to a blank attiny85 first. If i can do that i can work on changing the code. So far though i haven’t gotten the AVR fuses correct yet to use the tvbgone’s external 8mhz oscillator, though i think the program has uploaded correctly. That’s why i needed the HV Rescue Shield 2 mentioned above.

In addition, i finally ordered the parts to finish my DIY Arduino MENTA boards. They are cool Adafruit designed Arduino compatible boards that fit into an Altoids mint tin.

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Some of the other items I’ve been tinkering with have been Raspberry Pi’s, including various Linux-based Operating Systems including Raspian (a debian based distro), Octopi (debian running Octoprint – 3D printer software), and RetroPie (an emulator to play old roms for NES, SNES, Playstation, Atari, Gameboy, and other popular gaming systems). The tiny $5 Raspberry Pi Zero. Tinkering with automatic plant lights and a gardening moisture sensor. And my fancy new SparkFun Vernier Interface Shield an upgrade to interface my Vernier sensors with Arduino. More on that in another post soon!

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I also recently ordered a USB cable in order to salvage a scrounged barcode scanner that my brother saved from the Barnes And Noble dumpster. The USB cable works! Now i just need to figure out a use for it. Not bad for a $10 cable on ebay to a functional $200 value barcode scanner.

Happy Esperanto Day 2016!

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Happy Esperanto Day!

In honor of Esperanto Day, aka. Esperanto Literature Day, aka. Zamenhof Day…

I hereby invite you all to learn about or to speak the international language Esperanto. Here you can buy the book The Hobbit (in Esperanto)!

And as a bonus (bonefiko) here is a link to your very own model of Zamenhof that you can 3D Print!

And… you can easily learn Esperanto via the Free online DuoLingo course!!

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https://www.duolingo.com/course/eo/en/Learn-Esperanto-Online

DIY Mini Taffy Machine – revisited 2016

So lately in 2016 (and quite a bit today) i’ve taken a look at revisiting my original DIY Taffy Pulling Machine from 2012. There was a lot of interest in the 2012 version, and i did try to provide enough information and detail in open source fashion for others to build their own, but i guess things just didn’t work out the best for that to happen.

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The biggest reason i revisited it is because it just didn’t quite feel finished, and quite frankly those big gears posed a pinching hazard. Plus many people didn’t know where to get their own. So in an effort to solve both problems in one i decided to make internal gears, but to do that successfully i had to shrink them down. In the process i decided it was time to make the gears 3D-printable thereby speeding up my own design process, but also opening up this design to a whole new set of people that otherwise would not be able to make one.

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I hereby am pleased to announce the re-releasing of my Mini Taffy Machine as an Open Source Hardware project. I have improved the CAD files and PDF assembly drawings with good blueprint title blocks (a skill i obtained from my recent machining courses this semester). So i hope you all enjoy and i look forward to seeing more of these in the wild and new iterations and modifications that people come up with!! (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1659568)

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Colorado Jellyfish

I know this is an old blog post but this is soo cool that i just had to share it! Here’s hoping i can find and collect my own freshwater jellyfish someday!

More to Explore

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This past week, approximately 150 people in Rye, New Hampshire were stung by the a 40lb  Lion’s mane jellyfish (or “jelly,” which is the more appropriate zoological term) that washed up on shore. Lion’s mane jellies are the largest jelly species in the world, and the largest individual ever recorded was over 7 feet in diameter and had tentacles of 120 feet long. The individual who showed up in Rye was described as being the size of a trash can lid and when officials removed it from the water, some of its many tentacles broke off and continued to sting people who came into contact with them in the ocean (tentacles can remain “alive” for 3-4 days after a jelly dies).

Living in lovely, landlocked Colorado, you might think that jellies are one thing you don’t have to worry about encountering, but you’d…

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