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Old April 17, 2017   #6
bower's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Newfoundland, Canada
Posts: 5,820

Precocious flowering and early fruit set and growth are traits already available in conventional breeding. I used Kimberley in my crosses to get larger fruited and different colored varieties that flower about 42 days from seed instead of the 50 days or so for most 'early' varieties. The Beaverlodge varieties are another line with precocious flowering trait.
The early flowering alone doesn't really help with the short cool season - it only means you may need to start them later and have them indoors for a little less time. I doubt there would be an advantage to flowering even earlier than that, as the plants wouldn't be large enough to carry fruit.
Among the larger and later fruit I've grown, some don't flower until 72 days, and these are ones I chose because they are 'midseason' not 'late'. The solution which KarenO used in Alberta is to start them even earlier indoors and pot them up into larger digs before transplant so they get the head start they needed. This is fine for home garden, but wouldn't be practical for a farm scale operation unless you had heated greenhouse space for starts.
My approach has been to make crosses between those larger later tastier fruit and the early ones, and selecting for better traits and diverse shapes and colors with earliness and cool climate tolerance. I'm happy with the results I'm getting for a lot of effort. Of course it is not the same as simply tweaking a great OP to be early with no change to the fruit traits at all.
So I do think there might be some interest in the CRISPR approach, if they offered early flowering and setting variants of famous late heirlooms that we otherwise couldn't grow here. It would be interesting to see how a single modification affected the performance of the plant/variety in the real challenge of field conditions in the north or high altitude areas.
Whether they would be approved for organic farming is another question. Gene editing within the plant for a stable, heritable 'mutation' is not the same as GMO gene introductions which have or may have a number of potentially harmful effects on the environment. Maybe it would be considered acceptable after testing and review... time will tell.

There is one variety I grew and used for breeding projects because of its cold tolerance, numbered PI 120256 originally from Turkey, that maybe had the 'day length' issues described in the article for wild types. We were pleased to see the early vigor, cold tolerance and reasonably early flowering of these plants, then dismayed that they failed to set any fruit until quite late in the season, with low yield for us as a consequence both at home and at the farm. Those crosses got low priority in growouts, but I am growing a side cross this year, between my Kitten Paws F2 (early set, cool tolerance, and mtDNA from Stupice) and the F1 of Eva Purple Ball X PI 120256. Will see if the earliness from the maternal line is enough to select away from any 'day length' effects at the F1 stage... otherwise will abandon to future attentions of folks who have the CRISPR.
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