YINCHUAN, May 17 (Xinhua) -- Wang Chengyu proves that age is no barrier when it comes to answering Chinese leaders' calls for original ideas and the devotion to turn them into reality.
With the leaders urging the public to "innovate," 83-year-old botanist Wang has been busy making what he describes as "crazy plants": hybrids like soybean-sunflower, pepper-potato and goji-eggplant.
Living in Yinchuan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Wang has spent a lifetime experimenting with crossing plants of different species, genera or even families, a process known to scientists as "distant hybridization."
His biggest success, the goji-pepper, is made from crossing goji berries and peppers. A single pepper can grow as long as a child's arm and tastes sweeter than regular peppers.
Wang's goji-pepper is enjoying a surge in popularity. About 300 local farmers, 30 percent more than last year, are growing the crop on more than 130 hectares, after Wang sold them the patent in 2013. Annual production is estimated at 8 million kg, and exports are winging their way as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
On Wang's farm, tomatoes reinforced with goji berry genes contain 50 percent more sugar than normal tomatoes. He puts pepper and potato together on the same plant. Rice ears carrying corn genes have no problem growing on dry land.
Though most Chinese researchers are skeptical about distant hybrid plants, saying they are highly unstable and tough to keep fertile, Wang has persisted. He holds eight patents of hybridization.
"I use silver acupuncture needles to graft the sprouts. I create an opening in the tissues and while they heal, the different genetic tissues perfectly merge," said the octogenarian.
Wang said his "creative management" of the vegetables is also crucial, but he considers his techniques the secrets of his success and not to be divulged. He is planning to experiment with more plants.
"If I replicate the functions of soybean roots, which absorb and keep nitrogen, in other plants like sunflowers, the use of fertilizers will be greatly reduced," said Wang.
"I just hope I live long enough to see all my plans come true."