News / Science & Technology

    Scientists Crack Tomato's Genetic Code

    The tomato is the latest important food crop to yield its genetic secrets (Scott Bauer/USDA)
    The tomato is the latest important food crop to yield its genetic secrets (Scott Bauer/USDA)
    Scientists have unraveled the entire genetic code of the tomato, the world’s second-most valuable vegetable after the potato.  

    From pasta sauce to curry, this South American transplant has found itself at home in cuisines around the world. It is the latest important food crop to yield its genetic secrets, published in Nature.

    This breakthrough provides a glimpse at how the genetic revolution is helping keep our favorite foods on the table.

    Global effort

    As befits this international vegetable, more than 300 scientists from 14 countries worked on the eight-year project.

    Having a genetic map will provide a valuable starting point for breeders looking to make a better, hardier, more nutritious or simply tastier tomato.  

    “This will be facilitated now by the fact that we now know not only what genes are there, but their order,” says Giovanni Giuliano with the Tomato Genome Consortium and a researcher at the Italian national energy agency, which also does crop breeding.

    Though it is the first tomato to have its DNA sequence decoded, Giuliano says there's nothing particularly special about the variety chosen for the project, known simply as Heinz 1706.

    “It so happens that the day the person that made the first DNA library to be sequenced, they had Heinz 1706 seeds, and they started from that one. It is as simple as that.”

    But it was not so simple to create this tomato -- or any new crop variety.

    Ketchup story

    Heinz, a U.S. food company, is famous for its tomato ketchup. It's the essential condiment for American staples like hot dogs and hamburgers.

    But to make Heinz ketchup, not just any tomato will do.

    Until the late 1960s, the tomatoes the company used had a nasty habit of cracking on the vine after a heavy rain. That can ruin the tomato.

    So, “Heinz had set about trying to put together a variety of tomatoes that would resist that cracking,” says company research manager, Rich Ozminkowski.

    It meant years of trial and error, mating different varieties, finding offspring that looked promising, mating those offspring with other varieties, and so on.

    Complex traits

    And it was not enough for the offspring to just resist cracking.  Ozminkowski says the perfect ketchup tomato needs a whole list of other traits, too.

    “Traits like sugars and, for Heinz, viscosity, or the juice thickness, and the redness of the tomatoes are all very critical traits for us," he says. "Those are all controlled by a lot of different genes within a tomato naturally.”

    On top of all that, it had to be disease-resistant and easy to harvest mechanically.

    Commercialized around 1967, Heinz 1706 fit the bill. Ozminkowski says creating that tomato would have been much easier if they had a genetic map to go by.

    “The tools available back when 1706 was developed, it was all very, very conventional breeding." Breeders had to grow thousands of tomato plants and go looking for specific traits. "There were no genetic tools," he says. "You could not look at (DNA) sequences.  You could not do comparisons. And that is what makes the genomic project and the technologies that have spun off of that so interesting.”

    Less guesswork

    Genome sequencing is such a powerful tool for breeders of all kinds of crops because it takes away much of the guesswork, says Heinz’s Rich Ozminkowski.

    “By having the genome information, we can pick out those tomato plants that have more of those genes” for sweetness, redness, viscous juice, or whatever breeders are looking for.

    And it’s not just about making better ketchup.  Climate change will demand that many crops adjust to new conditions. Ozminkowski says researchers are already using the new genetic tools to help fight emerging plant diseases.

    “This is going to give us even more [tools]," he says. That's important, he adds, "because there are new diseases that are becoming problems within California and around the world.”

    So however you enjoy your tomatoes, or whatever you are eating, new genetic breakthroughs are helping keep them on your table for years to come.

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.