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Where did all the flavor go?

Image credit: https://www.popsci.com/genes-hold-secret-tomatoes-lost-flavor/

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Andrew Muchlinski
Andrew Muchlinski Aug 08, 2020
The perfectly shaped flavorless watery tomato has become a staple in most grocery stores. Its uglier, but more flavorful heirloom cousins, are staples at farmer’s markets and home gardens. So why the disconnect?

Commercial varieties need, and were bred for, very specific attributes. Some of these include a long shelf life, shape and size, disease resistance and yield. However, somewhere along the breeding path, selection for these traits came at a comprise to overall flavor quality. Scientists have been working hard to better understand the mechanisms governing this flavor loss, but what do we do when find it?

One approach would be to try and breed these genes back into commercial varieties. But this approach seems overly simplistic since desired commercial traits seem to inherently dominate flavor attributes. Why can’t we just revert back to heirloom varieties then?

Accelerated breeding strategies (e.g. CRISPR/Cas9) have already been shown to increase flavor and nutrition in engineered tomato. While this fruit is technically not GM, would the public go along with this strategy or consider this another Franken food?

[1]DENISE TIEMAN, GUANGTAO ZHU, MARCIO F. R. RESENDE JR., TAO LIN, CUONG NGUYEN, DAWN BIES, JOSE LUIS RAMBLA, KRISTTY STEPHANIE ORTIZ BELTRAN, MARK TAYLOR, BO ZHANG, HIROKI IKEDA, ZHONGYUAN LIU, JOSEF FISHER, ITAY ZEMACH, ANTONIO MONFORTE, DANI ZAMIR, ANTONIO GRANELL, MATIAS KIRST, SANWEN HUANG, HARRY KLEE. A chemical genetic roadmap to improved tomato flavor. SCIENCE 27 JAN 2017 : 391-394.

[2]Zsögön, A., Čermák, T., Naves, E. et al. De novo domestication of wild tomato using genome editing. Nat. Biotechnol. 36, 1211–1216 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.4272.

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