2Blades Foundation Newsletter
Issue 4 | August 2017 
Did you know that 2Blades has developed a solution to bacterial spot,  a disease responsible for the greatest chronic losses to the Florida tomato industry? And yet, despite strong disease resistance results in field trials, these tomatoes have failed to gain commercial traction with growers because of the controversy over GMOs. In this issue of our newsletter we tell the story of an industry afraid to innovate.

We also highlight the 2Blades Group at the The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich UK. This month the 2Blades Group launched a new website, so we'll take a closer look at some of the main activities in the group.
For 14 years, 2Blades has overseen the tomato collaboration with UC Berkeley and University of Florida. 
Program Spotlight: Tomato Field Trials
Spring 2017 2Blades field trial at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, Balm, FL

The Florida tomato industry spends almost $100 million each year trying to control bacterial spot disease, primarily with copper fungicides that are ineffective. For over 10 years, 2Blades has been working with University of California Berkeley and University of Florida to develop transgenic tomatoes carrying a gene from pepper that enables the plants to completely resist infection by the Xanthomonas pathogens that cause this disease, without any copper treatments.    

2Blades' approach is safe and effective: a 'poster child' for an ideal GM product. The tomatoes contain a gene from their cousin, pepper, and the protein it produces is widely present and consumed in bell and hot pepper varieties. The gene is part of a large gene family found in all plants. It signals the presence of the disease to the plant's natural defense mechanisms and provides significant yield benefits, doubling harvests over susceptible plants. Wide scale deployment of these plants could help reduce the use of copper fungicides which build up in Florida's sandy soils and packing house wastewater.    

To boost the durability of this resistance 2Blades added a gene from the cabbage family that gives resistance to bacterial spot through a different mechanism and enables the plants to resist a second disease, bacterial wilt, for which there are no effective controls. We are also testing other traits to further ensure durability of resistance. 

Despite strong disease resistance in field trials in the absence of chemical treatments, it is unlikely that these tomatoes will ever reach supermarket shelves. The majority of Florida tomato growers, and hence the vegetable seed industry, fear a lack of consumer acceptance of a GMO tomato and are unwilling to adopt the technology despite its clear benefits.  

Companies have indicated they would happy to be a "second adopter" once consumers have accepted the technology, but in the absence of an innovator, the Florida tomato industry will continue to use ineffective, environmentally damaging copper fungicides, including organic growers.

Through the years we've tried a little bit harder and a little bit more to make disease-resistant transgenic tomatoes available, but it is increasingly difficult to continue supporting this program without development partners willing to support new innovations and scientifically sound technologies that can reduce the environmental impact of agriculture whilst simultaneously boosting production.

The wheel is turning and if we are to produce enough food to feed the world's rapidly growing population then we must embrace all tools.  

Results from our latest field trial of disease resistant tomatoes
Our research hub: 2Blades @ TSL
Dr. van Esse and his team in Norwich, UK 
One of our strongest assets is our team of passionate and capable scientists based at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK. The 2Blades Group, led by Dr. Peter van Esse, is driving progress in our programs on diseases of soybean, corn, and banana. The lab is part of our important partnership with TSL, the world's leading institute for plant-microbe interactions, and serves as a fruitful platform to stimulate translation of fundamental discoveries in plant defenses to practical application. 

Several members of 2Blades' Scientific Advisory Board are based at TSL, further strengthening our close relationship with the lab.  

We recently spoke to Peter about his work in the lab, how he is using new technologies in the fight against crop disease, and his hopes for the future. Watch the interview here

Keep up with news from Peter and the team on their  new blog :  

Guarding the Granary

2Blades Group leader, Dr. Peter van Esse, published an article [pdf] in the June issue of The Biochemist highlighting the impact of crop disease on global food supply and how new technologies are helping us win the fight.

Picture credit: The Biochemist

Marie Curie fellow Dr. Sarah Schmidt talks about her work in the 2Blades Group to engineer resistance to Fusarium wilt of banana.