MAY 23, 2019 08:05 PM PDT

The Genetic Answer to Bland Tomatoes

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Every year, the world consumes around 182 million tons of tomatoes. Yet, thanks to years of genetic editing and crossbreeding, 90% of modern, domesticated tomatoes are known for having a watery or bland taste. This may change soon however as scientists have now identified a flavor-making gene variant usually not present in cultivated tomatoes, that may help produce tastier tomatoes.

Previously, tomatoes have been selectively bred for producing desirable traits that give the most economic return. This meant that genes promoting longer shelf-life, larger yields and larger sizes were largely encouraged, while those enhancing flavor were lost or negatively selected. This resulted in today’s average supermarket tomato to both lack genetic diversity, making it more prone to disease, and flavor.

Yet, new research analyzing the tomato genome has shed new light on what influences a tomato’s taste. Researchers from Cornell University analyzed genetic data from 727 cultivated and closely related wild tomatoes. Compiling this data into a pan-genome, they then compared it to the genome of the Heinz 1706 variety of domesticated tomato, first sequenced in 2012.

This comparison revealed 4,873 previously undocumented genes. In particular, they noted that the Heinz 1706 genome was short of a rare allele, a variant of the TomLoxC, a gene that facilitates the production of a group of organic compounds known as apocarotenoids. Giving the tomato its red pigment, it is responsible for multiple fruity and floral odours, as well as the tangy flavors found in some tomatoes.

Although 90% of wild tomatoes had this gene, only 2% of older domesticated tomato varieties did. Despite this however, the allele may be making a comeback as the researchers found it present in 7% of modern tomato varieties. This may be as breeders have started to focus more on flavor than other metrics in recent decades.

To conclude, researchers hope that their findings will be considered by breeders when growing their crops. In doing so, they will not only be able produce tastier tomatoes, but also diversify their genes, building genetic resistance to diseases currently addressed by pesticides and other cost-intensive and environmentally damaging methods.

 

Sources

Smithsonian Mag 

Big Think

 

About the Author
  • Annie graduated from University College London and began traveling the world. She is currently a writer with keen interests in genetics, psychology and neuroscience; her current focus on the interplay between these fields to understand how to create meaningful interactions and environments.
You May Also Like
JAN 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 17, 2020
ADHD Found to be More Likely in Kids With Young Mothers
The risk of developing ADHD is strongly linked to young maternal age during the first birth....
JAN 17, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
JAN 17, 2020
Looking into the eyes of MS patients for personalized therapies
Blurred or double vision, and in extreme cases, complete vision loss are amongst the earliest symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). In this devastating dise...
JAN 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 17, 2020
Linking Genes and Behavior in an Assessment of Personality in Animals
Anyone that's owned dogs knows that they have a personality, and the same is true of mice....
JAN 17, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 17, 2020
ADHD and Autism Share the Same Genes
In the US, 1 in every 59 children has autism, with 1 in every 20 having ADHD. Now, researchers from Denmark’s national psychiatric project, iPSYCH, h...
JAN 17, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
JAN 17, 2020
FDA Approves Ovarian Cancer Drug to Treat Pancreatic Cancer
In 2019, an estimated 46,000 Americans died from pancreatic cancer. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Lynparza, an ovarian cancer dr...
JAN 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 17, 2020
Sequence the Kraken! The Genome of the Giant Squid is Revealed
Giant squid, which can weigh over 900 kilograms and grow to thirteen meters, are the stuff of legend....
Loading Comments...