As a science project for my third grade class, I had to plant something inside of a styrofoam cup. This is the part in the story where I stare off into space, wistful in nostalgia. Because I don’t remember what I planted. Because nothing came out of the dirt. I’m pretty sure what I actually grew was an anti-plant. But German researchers know how to grow tobacco plants that don’t stop growing. That’s right, we don’t have a proper cure for cancer, but tobacco has been mutated to become eternal. I think a round of applause is in order.
This bastard child of botany and gene modification was developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) in Munster, Germany. The researchers isolated the gene responsible for stopping the tobacco plant’s growth, and suppressed its growth, presumably by telling it to smoke and drink coffee, both well-known growth-stunters. Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But teach a man to genetically modify a tree to grow fish, even through a tough winter…
To give this particular bit of news some scale, consider your everyday tobacco plant grows for three to four months, flowers, and dies. By the time they reach their maximum height, typically around 6 1/2 feet, their older leaves are already yellowed if they haven’t already fallen off. Well none of that happens with these guys.
“The first of our tobacco plants is now almost eight years old but it still just keeps on growing and growing,” said Dirk Prüfer, a professor at the Department of Functional and Applied Genomics at IME, in a prepared statement. “Although we regularly cut it, it’s six-and-a-half meters [21 ft.] tall.” And its older leaves are still green and young-looking. Not only is it the president, but it’s also a member.
To-bacco? Sounds like grow-bacco to me. (Sorry, no autographs.) This plant has lived 24 times longer than most tobacco plants, and could produce untold amounts of schoolyard peer pressure. It’s all rather amazing, and discouraging that a mostly harmful plant is the subject of such a groundbreaking discovery. Maybe it was simpler to figure out, I don’t know. But have a little faith, for IME is in talks with a Japanese company to develop a potato plant using similar techniques. And I used it sarcastically before, but if we’ve got undying potato plants on the immediate horizon, then I’m calling for a real round of applause.