The tiny tomatoes Prof. Vic Lambeth grows in test tubes are a bit strange. They have no leaves, stems or roots and are grown in a gelatin-like substance instead of soil.
Lambeth, a researcher at the University of Missouri, began the project two years ago and produced his first tomato last fall.
His purpose is not to grow a bigger and better tomato in his laboratory, but to use genetic manipulation to produce a better plant for breeding purposes.
The cherry-size tomatoes appear to float on the jellylike substance called agar. The agar, used in tissue culture, has everything the fruit needs, including minerals, vitamins, hormones and a source of carbon that furnishes energy.
Nutrients, instead of infiltrating through the roots, are pulled into the plants through their attachment to the agar.
Lambeth starts the process by taking an unpollinated flower bud from a normal tomato plant and placing it on the agar in the test tube. After three to four months in natural or artificial light, the tomatoes have the look and size of the average cherry tomato, going through the same ripening process.
Eventually, the fruit ruptures and produces a callus or clump of cells that can be taken out and put into a liquid or solid culture. This time a plant--complete with leaves, stems and roots--grows in the container.
These plants closely resembles the garden variety and can be planted as a regular seedling.