Plant breeders have tried for decades to improve the domesticated tomato by cross breeding it with wild relatives. The new maps of three wild tomato relatives' DNA (Solanum pennellii, S. habrochaites and S. pimpinellifolium), may help breeders focus on specific traits more efficiently. Genetic testing of new tomato hybrids can now look for DNA markers from wild traits that could make domestic tomatoes as hardy as their wild kin.
In particular, one desert-dwelling tomato, S. pennellii, contains genes that give it a thicker waxy coating on fruits and leaves that prevent water loss, according to the PNAS study led by University of California – Davis biologists. The leaves of the desert tomato grow smaller and have fewer openings, called stomata, used for respiration. Also, the plant has hardy roots that can tolerate saltier soil.
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Breeding this desert tomato with domesticated varieties could lead to plants that produce tasty, large fruits, yet can tolerate climate conditions that would wither other tomatoes. As the world's climate continues changing, the ability to adapt tomatoes to arid deserts could keep the "T" in BLT sandwiches.
IMAGE: Sliced tomatoes (Robert Wetzlmayr, Wikimedia Commons)
Domestic and wild tomatoes. L to R: Solanum lycopersicum, and wild relatives S. pimpinellifolium, S. habrochaites and S. pennellii. (Brad Townsley, UC Davis)