New gene could help improve tomato flavor and shelf-life

By: Michael J. Haas

A group of scientists, led by Boyce Thompson Institute faculty member Jim Giovannoni, has discovered a gene that could increase the firmness of tomatoes and right combination of its flavor and softness.

The study looked for genes involved in fruit softening but not ripening. They identified a transcription factor, SlLOB1, that regulated a broad array of cell wall-related genes and fruit-softening processes.

Modulating SlLOB1 could yield ripe tomatoes that haven’t begun to soften, increasing the shelf-life. Inhibiting SlLOB1 expression had no effect on the ripening process. Sugars and acids levels were unaltered, so the flavors were likely unchanged. “What did change is the texture of the fruits; they remained firmer longer and softened later,” said Giovannoni

“If we can find SlLOB1 gene variants that delay softening, breeders could introduce those into commercial varieties to produce high-quality, good-tasting tomatoes that don’t become too soft before the consumer gets them home,” he said.

Inhibition of SlLOB1 expression was associated with another change: The fruits were darker red in color, due to higher levels of the pigments beta-carotene and lycopene. “These tomatoes also have an increased nutritional quality because these pigments are antioxidants and your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A,” Giovannoni said.

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