(CORDIS) — A major international study has sequenced the genomes of the domesticated tomato and its wild ancestor, Solanum pimpinellifolium. The results, presented in the journal Nature, could lead to the development of innovative tools with the capacity to cut costs and help boost tomato production across the globe. The study was funded in part by the EU-SOL (‘High-quality solanaceous crops for consumers, processors and producers by exploration of natural biodiversity’) project, which received EUR 18.7 million under the ‘Food quality and safety’ Thematic area of the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
By sequencing the genomes, the Tomato Genome Consortium (TGC), a group of more than 300 scientists from 14 countries, got one step closer to helping the agricultural sector fight pests, pathogens, diseases and droughts that wreak havoc on the industry. Moreover, the potential for other crops to benefit from this discovery is high.
The researchers offer us key information about the association between tomato genes and traits. They also bolster our understanding of how genetics and environmental factors work together to determine the health and viability of a field crop.
An interesting result of this study is how the tomato has succeeded in adapting to new environments. The tomato genome, say the researchers, expanded abruptly around 60 million years ago, a period in which the planet was affected by large mass extinctions. Despite this event, some of the genes generated then managed to survive and continue to do so today.
TGC member Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) of Belgium primarily led the gene prediction that translated the raw genome sequence into biological knowledge. The work of the researchers from Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States led to the most detailed look yet at the tomato genome, specifically providing insight on the order, orientation, types and relative positions of 35 000 genes.
The tomato is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. The data generated in the study will provide key information about genes in the tomato’s Solanaceae relatives, namely potato, pepper, eggplant and petunia. These plant members play important roles not only in the production of food and spices, but also in the development of medicines.
The EU-SOL consortium was made up of plant scientists from universities, research institutes and industry, in Europe and abroad. Its main objective was to develop high-quality and healthy tomato and potato varieties with optimal consumer-, processor- and producer-directed traits. The puzzle was pieced together by dissecting the genetic and molecular components responsible for these traits through sophisticated technologies and skills.