[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
If there’s anything better than a fresh, ripe, tomato, it’s a gigantic fresh, ripe tomato. And thanks to a couple of mutations, that’s exactly what we all enjoy every time we grab a tomato from the farmer’s market or the grocery store. In the wild, tomato plants actually produce some pretty small fruit. Today’s cultivated varieties serve up tomatoes that are a thousand times larger. This yummy enormity comes from mutations that affect the activity of two genes: one that controls cell division, so the more cells there are in a tomato, the bigger that tomato will be; and another that controls how many seed-bearing compartments each fruit has. Again, the more compartments the bigger the fruit.
The compartment-number mutation, discovered by scientists at Cornell University, is described online in the current issue of Nature Genetics. The researchers found that no strains of wild tomato carry this mutation, which affects a gene called fasciated. Because all of the large-fruited modern varieties they surveyed have it, this suggests that the mutation occurred relatively recently in tomato history, and that breeders then shared it with all their tomato-loving friends. So you can thank those fasciated mutants for teeing up your next BLT.