You know, just when you were thinking you were starting to get the swing of things, the Universe throws another curveball.
Apparently there are three naturally occurring genders of papaya trees: male, female and hermaphrodite. While that’s not abnormal, per se, since human gender shows the same diversity, what I didn’t know was that most of the papaya fruit that we consume comes from the more highly prized hermaphrodite papaya trees. It seems the fruit from the “intersexed” trees is much sweeter than the male or female trees fruit.
So agricultural biologists are going to do a little tweaking to make the sweeter variety which is already relatively common, much more common.
“‘We’re going to change the sex of the papaya to help the farmers,’ said University of Illinois plant biology professor Ray Ming, who will lead the effort with researchers from the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, Texas A&M University and Miami University. A USDA scientist will also collaborate on the initiative.
‘This is a perfect case to demonstrate how basic science can help the farmers directly,’ Ming said. ‘In our case we can apply it immediately as a byproduct of the research program.’
Papayas already come in three sexual varieties: male, female and hermaphrodite. The hermaphrodite produces the flavorful fruit that is sold commercially. From the grower’s perspective, however, hermaphrodite plants come with a severe handicap: their seeds produce some female plants (which are useless commercially) and some hermaphrodites.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is impossible to tell the sex of a seed until it has grown up and flowered. This means that papaya farmers must plant five or more seeds together to maximize the likelihood of obtaining at least one hermaphrodite plant. Once they identify a desired plant, they cut the others down.”
The plan is to carefully examine the Y chromosome in the plant, identify the gene which controls the gender switch from female to hermaphrodite plants and through standard manipulation techniques make a hermaphrodite plant that only produces hermaphrodite offspring.
Read the full article here.
What an interesting action the free market and economic pressure is driving. Or I guess we could call this evolution in action – given that the cultivated papaya tree is in a sort of symbiotic relationship with human beings.