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Can Genetic Sequencing Bring Back A Tastier Commercial Tomato?

Posted March 09, 2017 12:00 AM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: food genetics taste tomato

As much as it’s totally illogical, it’s easy to get caught up in the concept of the “Good Ol’ Days.” Certain older relatives of mine reminisce about the days when kids could play out in the streets until dark and careen down winding roads on brakeless bikes, and watch good cowboys fight bad cowboys every Sunday night on their monochrome TV. Heck, as a member of the last generation to grow up sans internet I sometimes long for the days of answering machines and Super Nintendo. Of course, everyone’s Good Ol’ Days shifts when they hit middle age, and if anything these are probably better ol’ days than anything that’s come before us.

Apparently, there’s some truth to the Good Ol’ Days theory in an unusual area: the taste of tomatoes. The hybrid tomatoes found in most grocery stores have been selectively bred to give preference to their size and firmness for shipping purposes. But for the last several decades selection for flavor has slipped, resulting in large, firm, red fruits that sort of taste like eating water. Tomato flavor more or less drifted out of commercialized fruits, but has stayed constant in non-hybrid heirloom varieties. Consumers might consider heirloom tomatoes as less desirable, though: they’re typically softer and somewhat oddly shaped, and grow in an array of colors from deep apple red to green.

A team of researchers—whose research was published in the January 27th issue of Science— has undertaken to restore tomato taste via genomic analysis. The group analyzed the flavor-associated chemicals in almost 400 varieties of hybrid, heirloom, and wild tomatoes, then evaluated some of the varieties using a consumer panel. The group identified 13 chemical compounds associated with “good” flavor and matched them with genetic sequences, or alleles.

The researchers set out to “understand and ultimately correct” the tomato taste deficiency, so the next step is to selectively breed tomatoes using molecular markers to try and move the tasty alleles back into the hybrid fruits. An individual desiring a tasty tomato sooner could simply wait until summer and buy a locally produced heirloom tomato, which has likely retained most of the tasty alleles. I’ll admit that I’ve personally used fresh tomatoes as little more than the buffer between the lettuce and bacon in a BLT, or as filler in a salad. But after researching this blog I’m inclined to give heirlooms a shot to see if I can tell the difference.

Image credit: See-ming Lee / CC BY-SA 2.0

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#1

Re: Can Genetic Sequencing Bring Back A Tastier Commercial Tomato?

03/09/2017 7:19 PM

Personally, I think it is more the way the tomatoes are grown and shipped.

By necessity, all commercial tomatoes are picked before they can become sweeter and tastier. They have to be firm enough to survive the shipping and handling. I've grown both hybrids and heirlooms in my garden and they all taste good because I have the luxury of being able to leave them on the vine until they are ready to eat.

Also tomatoes grown in a greenhouse or hot house, never seem to get the same level of tastiness as the ones grown outside in the direct sun. Not sure exactly why, but it seems to make a difference. It could be temperature, as cold weather grown tomatoes in greenhouses are still not as warm as a tomato growing in a summer field. Maybe, it's the light spectrum. An aggie somewhere must have an answer to that.

But overall, I agree. Store-bought tomatoes just don't taste as good as the home grown. Maybe there is something they can do to improve the taste by tweaking the DNA.

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#2

Re: Can Genetic Sequencing Bring Back A Tastier Commercial Tomato?

03/09/2017 11:26 PM

Tomatoes were good enough to begin with and should of never been messed with.

Eventually some maniac scientist will genetically modify tomatoes out of existence and consumers will put a price on his head so high he will suffer the same rate.

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#3

Re: Can Genetic Sequencing Bring Back A Tastier Commercial Tomato?

03/09/2017 11:32 PM

As Sir Robin says there is NO way you'll ever get a store bought 'mater to taste like a home grown. I used to grow my own as a kid just to be able to pick them off the vine and eat them like an apple. Maybe with a little salt sprinkled on them.

Yum. Hooker

PS - the only good thing about this day and age is that I don't have to get up to change the channel or adjust the volume.

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#4

Re: Can Genetic Sequencing Bring Back A Tastier Commercial Tomato?

03/10/2017 12:40 PM

Hey the better it tastes the worse it is for you....everybody knows that....I haven't eaten anything that tastes good for years....NOW

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#5

Re: Can Genetic Sequencing Bring Back A Tastier Commercial Tomato?

03/11/2017 1:06 PM

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