The tomatoes we buy at the supermarket often look lovely, and last well, but taste a bit bland. Researchers have discovered a gene variant, responsible for making the fruits’ flavor, that is absent in most modern cultivated tomatoes.
The discovery of this missing gene was the consequence of a bigger project; mapping the entire genome of all members of a species, a so-called ‘pan-genome’. The very first tomato breed to be genome sequenced, back in 2012, was the modern Heinz 1706 variety. The sequencing identified 35,000 genes, and this genome has been the reference genome against which all tomato genomes are compared to.
Since this first sequence was generated 727 cultivated and wild tomatoes have also been sequenced, revealing a plethora of new genes, including a rare variant of the TomLoxC gene. The gene influences the flavor of the fruit and is found in 90% of wild tomatoes, but only 7% of modern cultivated varieties. If tomato growers selectively breed tomatoes that include this variant of TomLoxC, future tomato breeds may soon have more flavor, much to the enjoyment of supermarket shoppers.
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