Unraveling the Mysteries of Tomato Genetics

By Susan Littlefield

After years of work by scientists from around the world, the Tomato Genome Consortium announced that the full genome of the tomato has been decoded, specifically that of the variety 'Heinz 1706', as well as that of its wild relative Solanum pimpinellifolium.

Knowledge of the sequence of the tomato's 35,000 genes arranged on 12 chromosomes will help plant breeders develop varieties with improved yields, nutrition, disease resistance, and taste. Although unraveling the gene sequence of this first tomato variety cost millions of dollars, according to James Giovannoni of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (located on the Cornell University campus), one of the researchers who participated in the project, this groundwork will enable breeders and seed companies to sequence the genomes of other varieties at a much more reasonable cost.

The research into tomato genetics is expected to have benefits beyond the realm of tomatoes, however. Crops as diverse as strawberries, apples, melons, and bananas share characteristics such as the pathways involved in fruit ripening. ″Now we can start asking a lot more interesting questions about fruit biology, disease resistance, root development and nutritional qualities,″ Giovannoni notes.

To read more about the sequencing of the tomato genome, go to: Cornell Chronicle.

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