Tomato genome gets fully sequenced

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ITHACA, N.Y. — For the first time, the genome of the tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, has been decoded, an important step toward improving yield, nutrition, disease resistance, taste and color of the tomato and other crops.

The full genome was sequenced from the “Heinz 1706” tomato. The sequence of a wild relative (Solanum pimpinellifolium), was also completed.

The work caps years of work by members of the Tomato Genomics Consortium, an international collaboration including Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

35,000 genes. Consortium researchers report that tomatoes possess some 35,000 genes arranged on 12 chromosomes.

“For any characteristic of the tomato, whether it’s taste, natural pest resistance or nutritional content, we’ve captured virtually all those genes,” said James Giovannoni, a scientist at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, which located on the Cornell campus, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. tomato sequencing team includes researchers at nine universities, the USDA and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where the wild tomato genome sequence was developed.

Evolution insights

“The tomato genome sequence provides insights into fleshy fruit evolution,” say the researchers. It also allows plant breeders to produce new varieties more quickly with specific desired characteristics.

“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,” Giovannoni said.

Now that the genome sequence of one variety of tomato is known, it will be easier and much less expensive for seed companies and plant breeders to sequence other varieties for research and development, he added.

Whereas the first tomato genome sequence cost millions of dollars, subsequent ones might only cost $10,000 or less, by building on these initial findings.

Broader impact

Strawberries, apples, melons, bananas and many other fleshy fruits share some characteristics with tomatoes, so information about the genes and pathways involved in fruit ripening can potentially be applied to them, Giovannoni said, helping to improve food quality, food security and reduce costs.

“Now we can start asking a lot more interesting questions about fruit biology, disease resistance, root development and nutritional qualities,” Giovannoni said.

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