Groundbreaking research could lead to better-tasting and longer-lasting tomatoes.
Scientists have identified a gene that encodes an enzyme which plays a crucial role in controlling softening of tomatoes. The breakthrough is said to provide the key to uncoupling softening from other aspects of fruit quality.
The research was led by Graham Seymour, professor of plant biotechnology in the School of Biosciences at The University of Nottingham, and published in the academic journal Nature Biology. The study was funded by BBSRC and Syngenta Seeds.
The question of how the tomato disassembles its cell walls and softens during ripening has stumped researchers for over two decades, but Seymour and his team have identified a gene that encodes a pectate lyase which normally degrades the pectin in the tomato cell walls during ripening.
“In laboratory experiments we have demonstrated that if this gene is turned off, the fruit soften much more slowly, but still show normal changes in colour and the accumulation of taste compounds such as acids, sugars and aroma volatiles,” Seymour explained.
“Natural variation exists in the levels of pectate lyase gene expression in wild relatives of cultivated tomato, and these can be used for conventional breeding purposes. This discovery can provide a means to refine the control of fruit softening in modern tomato cultivars.”
The breakthrough is the latest to benefit the tomato sector, following the sequencing of the tomato genome in 2012.
Dr Charles Baxter from Syngenta said: “This discovery has relevance for the development of new tomato varieties via conventional plant breeding and is a significant step forward in understanding processes involved in fruit development, allowing more refined control of this process in plant breeding.”