Tomato Genetic Code Mapped; May Lead To A Tastier Fruit

By Amir Khan on June 1, 2012 2:13 PM EDT

Tomato
The tomato's genetic code has been mapped and researchers say this will lead to a better tasting fruit. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Researchers attempting to map the tomato's genome have finally been successful in doing so, according to a new study, published Thursday in the journal Nature. The findings may lead to a more abundant, heartier and better tasting tomato, according to the study.

Tomatoes are a $2 billion a year crop, but complaints are abound that grocery store tomatoes lack flavor. In order to make it through the shipping process, tomatoes are picked before they are ripe and later treated to turn them red. While this causes a nice color, it leads to a bland, flavorless tomato.

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"In the early 1990s what changed the tomato industry was the use of non-ripening mutant genes, genes that came from natural mutations that have been used to extend shelf life in the fruit," Graham Seymour, study coauthor and professor at the University of Nottingham, told BBC News." But this has been quite a blunt instrument, because when you slow ripening down you also slow down those other processes like flavor development and color development."

Researchers sequenced the over 35,000 genes on 12 chromosomes that the tomato contains and said that by manipulating the genes, geneticists can control every aspect of tomato development.

"For any characteristic of the tomato, whether it's taste, natural pest resistance or nutritional content, we've captured virtually all those genes," James Giovannoni, study coauthor and researcher at Cornell University, said, according to MSNBC. "Tomato genetics underlies the potential for improved taste every home gardener knows and every supermarket shopper desires and the genome sequence will help solve this and many other issues in tomato production and quality."

The genome mapping will lead to a better tasting tomato, Seymour said.

"Now that we have the genome it will be possible to actually target the genes that control flavor separately from those that control shelf life," he told BBC News. "So it should be possible in the very near future to have tomatoes that last a long time but develop a very dark red color, are full of phyto chemicals and are much more tasty."

The findings have a much further reach as well. The tomato is the latest fruit or vegetable to have its genome sequenced -- the potato, cucumber, soybean and corn have all been sequenced and with each new genome comes more answers to questions about genetics.

Now we can start asking a lot more interesting questions about fruit biology, disease resistance, root development and nutritional qualities," Giovannoni told MSNBC.

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