A new discovery could make more tomatoes taste like heirlooms, reports an international research team headed by a University of California, Davis, plant scientist.
The finding, which will be reported in the June 29 issue of the journal Science, has significant implications for the U.S. tomato industry, which annually harvests more than 15 million tons of the fruit for processing and fresh-market sales.
"This information about the gene responsible for the trait in wild and traditional varieties provides a strategy to recapture quality characteristics that had been unknowingly bred out of modern cultivated tomatoes," said Ann Powell, a biochemist in UC Davis' Department of Plant Sciences and one of the lead authors of the study.
"Now that we know that some of the qualities that people value in heirloom tomatoes can be made available in other types of tomatoes, farmers can have access to more varieties of tomatoes that produce well and also have desirable color and flavor traits," she said.
For decades, plant breeders in the tomato industry have selected varieties that are uniformly light green before they ripen, in order to produce tomatoes that can be harvested at the same time.
However, this characteristic is accompanied by an unintended reduction in sugars that compromises the flavor of the fresh fruit and its desirability for processing.
Powell's UC Davis research team began studying the genes influencing tomato fruit development and ripening after spending two summers screening tomato plants for transcription factors that might play a role in both fruit color and quality. Transcription factors are proteins that regulate genes, or turn them on and off. These factors themselves are manufactured or expressed by genes.
The UC Davis researchers were particularly interested in tomatoes they observed in the field that were unusually dark green before they ripened.
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|Contact: Patricia Bailey|
University of California - Davis