Weird science

TomTato lives! Frankensteinian plant grows both tomatoes and potatoes

Sep. 26, 2013 at 2:48 PM ET

You say to-MAY-to, they say tom-TAY-to.
Morgan-Thompson
You say to-MAY-to, they say tom-TAY-to.

Britons are booking orders for a double-crop wonderplant called the TomTato, that puts out cherry tomatoes on the vine, while growing whole white potatoes underground. 

"It's the perfect marriage," Michael Perry, new product manager at Thompson-Morgan, who is taking TomTato orders for next April, told NBC News. "Why wouldn't someone want to buy one?"

Tomato lovers can chop up the fruit for a season's worth of salads, and then harvest the potatoes at the end of the year, Perry promised.

It sounds crazy, but the science is legit. Tomato and potatoes are members of the same plant family, which makes them ideal candidates for being grafted together. That's how the company creates their new line, and a technique fruit growers and horticulturists have been using for centuries — just not in this exact combination. 

The tomato and potato from the TomTato plant won't taste any different, Kenneth Mudge, associate professor at Cornell's Department University of Agriculture, told NBC News, but the yield might be lower than individual tomato or potato plants. That's because "the potato is putting all of its energy into making tubers and a tomato is putting all its energy into making fruit," he said. 

Mudge said he wouldn't buy one, no, but ... "I'll make one!"

Thompson-Morgan — the firm that's claiming this is the "first time that plants have been successfully produced commercially" — grows their tomato and potato plants separately. When they're just a few weeks old, the tomato plants are cut at the stem and placed at a cut-location on the stem of the potato plant.

Over the next few weeks, channels between the potato and tomato stems fuse together. The plumbing connects, delivering nutrition down from the leaves, and water up from the roots, but the plants themselves retain genetic identities.

This technique wouldn't be limited to TomTatoes. Bell peppers and eggplant — family members of solonacea just like tomatoes — could be alternative partners for the potato, Thompson-Morgan's Perry acknowledged, but wouldn't say which pairs are up next.

"The possibilities are there and we'll be looking into more as soon as we can," he said. "The world is our oyster." EggplanTato, anyone?

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. Follow her on FacebookTwitter and Google+.

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