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Scientists will make tomatoes taste good again

tomatoes tieman1hrJust as there is nothing better than biting into a raw, ripe tomato picked from the heirloom plant in your backyard, there is nothing worse than the mealy, watery, flavorless slice of tomato that so many people settle for everyday on sandwiches around the world.

In a study published today in the journal Science, Harry Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, identifies the chemical combinations for better tomato flavor.

In a paper published today in Science, researchers announced that they've figured out which genes control the complexities of tomato flavor, and say that they can re-introduce flavor to the commercially-grown tomatoes of the world. Researchers have known for a while that favoring shape, size, and stability in commercial tomato varieties has led to a loss of taste, but now there might be a way to fix it.
"We're just fixing what has been damaged over the last half century to push them back to where they were a century ago, taste-wise," said Klee, stressing that this technique involves classical genetics, not genetic modification. "We can make the supermarket tomato taste noticeably better."

Biologist Harry Klee of the University of Florida has studied tomatoes for 22 years, and worked on this project with colleagues, including Denise Tieman, lead author of the study, since 2005. “This is a culmination of over a decade of asking one very difficult question; what is flavor?” Klee says.

Unlike other fruits, like bananas, there’s no one volatile compound or chemical that screams ‘tomato’. “What we found is if you look at what is flavor in a tomato, it’s a cumulative thing. I draw the analogy to a symphony; it’s a lot of notes and instruments that come together,” Klee says. He and his colleagues identified 13 different volatile compounds in heirloom and wild varietals that weren’t present in the more modern tomato plants, then identified the genes that controlled those compounds.

Because breeding takes time, and the scientists are studying five or more genes, Klee said the genetic traits from his latest study may take three to four years to produce in new tomato varieties.

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