When one starts typing the phrase "Tomatoes taste like…", in Google, the six most common auto-complete suggestions are "blood," "dirt," "fish," "pumpkin," "chlorine" and "wet dog."
If you, too, have ever lamented tasting wet dog (or, uh, blood) as you ve bitten into a store-bought tomato-and-cheese sandwich for lunch, you may be in luck.
On Monday, scientists introduced a rare version of a gene that promises to make store-bought tomatoes taste more edible in a report published in Nature Genetics.
Tomato breeders usually sacrifice the flavor of their batches for the sake of production, opting to instead breed larger fruits in higher quantities with longer shelf lives.
A team of researchers (perhaps after hearing such "wet dog" and "dirt" complaints) gathered genetic information from 725 wild tomatoes and constructed a "pan-genome," or a genome with information from all 725 tomatoes.
Tomatoes arranged in a heart shape (Colourbox)
We re a step closer now to tasty, terrific tomatoes!
They compared the pan-genome with the genome of a domesticated tomato named "Heinz 1706," which has functioned as the base tomato genome until now. Through the comparison, they discovered that only 2 percent of the domesticated tomatoes sold in stores (like Heinz) contain a flavorful gene present in 90 percent of wild tomatoes.
The gene uses carotenoids — or the pigments that give vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and corn their distinctive colors — to give tomatoes their tangy flavor.
Taste aside, it also allows breeders to develop tomatoes with a genetic resistance to diseases currently addressed through pesticides and other cost-intensive and environmentally unfriendly measures, the study s co-leader James Giovannoni said.
Giovanni hopes to see more breeders including the tasty gene in their future tomato rearing processes, he said.
"How many times do you hear someone say that tomatoes from the store just don t quite measure up to heirloom varieties?" Clifford Weil, program director of the National Science Foundation s Plant Genome Research Program that supported the work, asked.
"This study gets to why that might be the case and shows that better tasting tomatoes appear to be on their way back."