Tomato’s Genome Sequence Finally Cracked!
Though science has still not replied to the eternal question of whether tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, it has stepped closer to answering it. The full genome sequence of tomato has been discovered by an international team of scientists, working across nationalities. Not only has the team cracked the genetic code of cultivated tomato but also that of the wild variety. It is being hoped that this development would help farmers grow tastier and more nutritious varieties of tomatoes in the future.
1) The Genetic Code
The full genome sequence of tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, has been named “Heinz 1706” and it has been published in the science journal “Nature.” Describing the details of the genetic code, the scientists said that all the 35,000 genes of tomato are well displayed in this sequence along with their functional parts, orientation, types, and relative positions. The researchers found that the tomatoes were made up of about 35,000 genes, arranged on 12 chromosomes and each of those genes is responsible for any characteristic that tomato shows. The “Nature” article describes the genetic results, “The tomato genome sequence provides insights into fleshy fruit evolution.” Apart from the domesticated or cultivated tomato, the researchers have also been able to crack the genetic sequence of its wild relative Solanum pimpinellifolium. James Giovannoni, who works at the “Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University," shows his excitement through words, “For any characteristic of the tomato, whether it’s taste, natural pest resistance or nutritional content, we’ve captured virtually all those genes.” Giovannoni further adds, “Tomato genetics underlies the potential for improved taste every home gardener knows and every supermarket shopper desires and the genome sequence will help solve this and many other issues in tomato production and quality.”
2) The Significance
In the US alone, tomatoes are worth $2 billion pie of the market share and Britain dabbles in $980 million worth of tomato business a year. In the rest of the world too, tomatoes are an inherent part of daily diet in all forms. Therefore, their consumption depends, to a large extent, on their quality. It is no wonder then that the scientists are excited about the possibilities arising out of knowing tomato’s genetic code. One of the main benefits would be for the researchers to identify links between tomato genes and the characteristics like taste, shape, color and nutrition level shown by various tomatoes. The scientists will also be able to pinpoint the specific environmental factors that enhance or affect the overall health of tomato crops. Graham Seymour, a member of the scientific team working on this project, and a professor of biotechnology at the “Nottingham University”, explains, “Tomatoes are one of the most important fruit crops in the world, both in terms of the volume that we eat and the vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals that both fresh and processed tomato products provide to our diets.”
3) The Team
It was an international collaboration between more than a dozen countries that was named the “Tomato Genomics Consortium” and was entrusted with the responsibility to identify the genetic sequence of this popular fruit/vegetable of the world. The researchers, who were members of this Consortium, belonged to various nationalities, such as Argentina, Germany, China, France, India, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Japan, United Kingdom, and the US.
4) The Future
It took the international Consortium many years and millions of dollars to find out the first genome sequence in case of tomato. However, the scientists are hopeful that further studies in this direction would yield results at a much less cost because they will have initial findings to work with. Besides, buoyed by the tomato findings, scientists are also ready to work on fruits like strawberries, apples, bananas, etc to identify their genome sequence and work for their improvement too. As Giovannoni explains, “Now we can start asking a lot more interesting questions about fruit biology, disease resistance, root development and nutritional qualities.”
Tomato has many health benefits, especially when eaten raw. Now armed with the genetic information, it is going to be much easier for the scientists to provide significant inputs to the farmers to grow better varieties of tomatoes as well as other fruits and vegetables. As for that cup of salsa, it is gonna get better now!