Make tomatoes flavorful again

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Credit: Harry Klee, University of Florida

Genetic analyses have revealed which genes are needed to reinstate the rich, original flavor of tomatoes, now absent in many grocery shelf varieties of this fruit. Over the years, tomatoes have been selected for qualities such as size and firmness for shipping purposes, while selection for flavor has been over looked, causing many modern varieties to lose their original taste. With the aim of identifying the flavor-infusing genes that have been lost, Denise Tieman et al. sequenced the whole genomes of 398 modern, heirloom, and wild varieties of tomato. As well, 160 tomato samples representing 101 varieties were evaluated by a consumer panel that rated the samples on qualities such as "overall liking" and "flavor intensity." The results of this consumer analysis pointed to dozens of chemical compounds of interest. Using this information, the researchers were able to identify 13 chemical compounds associated with flavor that were significantly reduced in modern varieties relative to heirloom varieties; genetic sequencing data was used to identify the corresponding lost genes. Among other results, the tiemans found that smaller fruit tended to have greater sugar content, suggesting that selection for more sizable tomatoes, while it has indeed allowed domesticated tomatoes to grow, has cost sweetness and flavor.

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