Listen Now Download as mp3 from the show Hacking biology - synthetic DNA and experimental evolution
Hot on the heels of last month’s announcement of the full sequence of the tomato genome, plant researchers at the University of California, Davis, have discovered a genetic tweak that could make bland supermarket tomatoes taste more like classic heirloom varieties. Publishing in the journal Science, Ann Powell and her team searched for transcription factors - proteins that switch genes on and off - that are involved in controlling quality and colour as tomatoes ripen.
The team focused their attention on tomatoes that were unusually dark green before ripening, and discovered that these plants carried a particular gene called GLK2. The gene is involved in the development of chloroplasts - the tiny power stations inside plant cells that convert sunlight energy into food. Tomatoes carrying the gene have higher levels of sugars and other naturally-occurring chemicals, making them tastier as well as healthier.
The researchers hope that one day their discovery could help to transform supermarket tomatoes - which have been bred for fast ripening and easy storage rather than flavour - into tastier toms.