Hebrew U scientist helps ‘decode’ tomato genome

300-memeber team of scientists from around the world makes breakthrough that will further development of tomato production.

June 1, 2012 06:22
1 minute read.

tomatoes 370. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)


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The tomato is the the reigning queen of the average Israeli salad – and now Israel is giving back by aiding an international effort to decode its genome.

The Tomato Genome Consortium started work in 2003, when scientists analyzed the DNA sequence of tomatoes using the most modern equipment available at the time. Fortunately, with the recent introduction of so-called “next generation sequencing” technologies, the speed of data output increased 500-fold and enabled the project to move on efficiently to its conclusion.

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The tomato genome – both the domesticated type and its wild ancestor, Solanum pimpinellifolium – has been sequenced for the first time by the consortium’s 300-member team of scientists in Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the US – and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem group included Prof. Dani Zamir of the university’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The Tomato Genome Consortium’s achievement – an important tool for further development of tomato production – appears in a report in the May 31 issue of the prestigious journal Nature.

When Columbus brought tomato seeds from America back to the old world some 500 years ago, he probably never imagined that the redorange fruit would be such a major contributor to human nutrition, health, culinary pleasure and international cooperation.

The tomato genetic code contains 35,000 genes – significantly fewer than the estimated 24,000 in the human genome. The new knowledge provides a means to match DNA sequences with specific traits that are important for human well-being or taste, such as flavor, aroma, color and yield.

In addition to improving the tomato, the genome sequence provides a way to study closely related plants such as the potato, pepper, petunia and even coffee. These species all have similar sets of genes, even thought they look very different.

How can a similar set of “genetic blueprints” empower diverse plants with different adaptations, characteristics and economic products? This challenging question is the subject of exploration that involves comparing biodiversity and traits of the tomato and its relatives.

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