Tomato baby and its family (Base Pairs Episode 10.5)

Plant scientist Zachary Lippman tells stories from the field of bizarre tomatoes, intensely hot peppers, and giant pumpkins.

One day, while out tending their experimental tomato fields, Associate Professor Zachary Lippman and his team found something totally bizarre and common at the same time. It was a tomato that looked like a baby, with a head, a body, and arms that seemed to be waving “hello”—and it wasn’t some laboratory-created mutant.

In this chat episode, we talk about the parts of our interview with Lippman that didn’t make it into the full episode, “CRISPR vs. Climate Change,” and learn that ”what’s wonderful about genetics is that you see crazy stuff all the time.” Lippman and his team grow thousands of plants each year for their research, many of which are tomatoes, but some are close relatives of tomatoes. Base Pairs producer Brian Stallard’s mind was blown when he heard what else is in the tomato family, and how Lippman Lab has fun with some of these tomato relatives.

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Extras for Episode 10.5:

This is the odd specimen that Lippman describes in the episode. Scientists on his team gave it a face and belly button, and brought their “baby” into the lab to mature into a ripe, red tomato.

Before Lippman was the head of a laboratory that focuses on tomatoes, one might have guessed that he would end up studying pumpkins. He started growing giant pumpkins as a kid, and still keeps that hobby up today.

Over the years, Lippman has seen countless oddities growing in his experimental fields that arose completely naturally. As a plant geneticist, he enjoys trying to understand the genetic factors that cause these strange traits.

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