A relatively small cluster of genetic information, some of it dating to 60 million years ago, endows the staple fruit of summer with its taste and texture. The secrets of the tomato, star of summer gardens, salads and gazpacho, is now laid out for plant breeders and horticulturists in exacting detail.
Adding to a growing list of plant gene maps, the Tomato Genome Consortium today published genome sequences for two tomatoes: The “Heinz 1706” varietal, an inbred cultivar that serves as a model for the domesticated tomato, and its closest wild counterpart, Solanum pimpinellifolium. The nine-year effort provides the closest glimpse yet of the 35,000 genes and 12 chromosomes of tomatoes, and by extension the rest of their extended plant family. The two sequences also tell the story of tomato domestication, notably its initial cultivation in the Americas and the introduction of “pomo d’oro” to the Old World in the 16th century.
The sequences provide new insight into the genes responsible for tomatoes’ characteristic color, flavor and texture, and could give plant biologists a wealth of new genetic information to manipulate, either through breeding or otherwise. Tomatoes represent a $2 billion market in the United States, according to Cornell.