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Scientists Unlock Genetic Key To Delicious Tomatoes

Sean Hickin via flickr

Scientists have unlocked the secret to why so many supermarket tomatoes are tasteless. The findings mean there’s hope for delicious, marketable and affordable tomatoes. The miracles of modern agriculture mean tomatoes are available nearly year round. But ever wonder why those supermarket tomatoes turn out mushy and flavorless? That’s because growers favor bulky tomatoes with high yields and long shelf lives, and flavor got lost along the way.

Credit Sean Hickin via flickr /

University of Florida researcher Harry Klee led an international team of scientists that has mapped those key flavor components, down to the genomic level.

"We wanted to know first of all what went wrong with the flavor of the modern commercial tomato? Why do they have so much less flavor than your heirloom variety of one hundred years ago?" Klee asked.

Well, it's partially because of economics. Farmers aren't necessarily incentivized to produce delicious tomatoes.

"The growers in general are not paid based on flavor. So it's unreasonable to expect them to take varieties, even if they do taste better, when the yield and performance aren't up to what they're used to," Klee said.

"Growers need varieties that have high yield and disease resistance, and the fruit are firm enough to ship and store. So we have to work within that context of improving the flavor without damaging any of the properties that make the fruit so attractive for the growers," he said.

But with his team's findings, Klee is confident he can fit the lost taste genes into modern tomatoes, while keeping them marketable.

“So that’s the real challenge for us, to move the old flavor genetics back into the modern genetics,” he said.

Klee hopes to have delicious, marketable tomatoes available in grocery stores in three years. His team’s findings are published in the journal Science.

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As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.