Through thousands of years of selective breeding, people all over the world have transformed dinky wild plants into mighty marvels of modern agriculture. Corn was once a scraggly grass with tiny cobs. The broccoli we grow today develops its green flowering heads much faster than older varieties. And supermarket tomatoes are far larger than their wild ancestors. But at some point the demands of industrial agriculture started to compromise texture, nutrition and, in particular, flavor. Breeding fruits and vegetables that were robust enough to survive days or weeks of shipping across states or countries inadvertently sapped a lot of their flavor. Tomatoes, strawberries, melons and other foods have all become blander over time.
In the July Scientific American contributing writer Ferris Jabr examines the biological details underlying this dilemma and explains how some plant breeders are returning flavor to fruits and vegetables with a technique known as marker-assisted breeding. Rather than genetically modifying food, marker-assisted breeding analyzes the DNA inside seeds and young plants to inform smarter breeding choices, making the whole process faster and more precise. You can read an expanded version of Jabr's article and explore an interactive illustration of more flavorful, colorful, nutritious and shapely fruits and vegetables that recently hit the market here.