Friday, July 6, 2012
Breeders have unknowingly bred the flavor out of tomatoes by favoring those with a nice uniform color, scientists are reporting. It’s hoped the finding could help growers recapture the old, sweet flavor of tomatoes—which, as they sit on supermarket shelves today, often seem not to taste much different from the packaging they sit in. The finding, reported in the June 29 issue of the journal Science, could have implications for the U.S. tomato industry, which harvests over 15 million tons of the fruit yearly for processing and fresh-market sales. “This information… provides a strategy to recapture quality characteristics that had been unknowingly bred out of modern cultivated tomatoes,” said Ann Powell, a biochemist at the University of California Davis and one of the lead authors of the study. For about 70 years, breeders have selected tomato varieties with uniformly light green fruit before ripening. These tomatoes then turn red evenly as they ripen, and they look nice in a supermarket display. Powell and colleagues say the gene at the heart of uniform ripening codes for the production of a molecule called GLK2, which is a transcription factor, meaning it governs genetic activity.