The new tools are DNA sequencing resources. In short, it is now
relatively cheap and easy to obtain the entire genetic code for
a given plant. Klee now has biological blueprints of hundreds
of tomato varieties. He also has information about the volatile
chemicals, acids, and sugars naturally present in tomatoes
that heighten the sensory experience. Together with faculty
in the Plant Innovation Center, he has collected disk drives of
consumer preference data that show how those chemical profiles
influence consumer reaction.
Information about consumer desire and knowledge of influential
flavor compounds and the genetic blueprints allow intricate
comparisons to be made. Scientists look for trends that match
consumer taste experience to certain genes or certain compounds.
Once those genes or aromatic chemicals are identified, it makes
it easier to select parent plants to eventually bundle all the best
qualities into one plant.
Two new tomato varieties were released last year that are
primarily targeted to the home garden. These varieties, called
“Garden Gem” and “Garden Treasure,” are the result of a
cross from an outstanding Florida production tomato-parent
and a specific heirloom. The production variety brings disease
resistance, firmness, and size. The heirloom brings flavor and
aromas. Together they make a nearly perfect tomato.
This year Dr. Klee will release a new tomato variety where one
parent provided a gene to produce a deep red color. The color is
the result of lycopene, a natural compound producing attractive
red colors in fruits and vegetables. Lycopene has potential roles
in human health, and also is processed into an array of other
compounds, several contributing to flavors. In short, this year’s
garden invention doesn’t just taste better, it might be better for
Klee’s efforts in studying tomato DNA blueprints, and using
them to make decisions about plants to cross, dramatically
decrease randomness and chance in the process of new variety
development. He’s one of many plant scientists searching
for that new molecular recipe that rapidly improves products
for consumers, while being feasible for farmers to grow.
Understanding the consumer, the compounds that stimulate the
senses, and now tomato genetics, all allow scientists to rapidly
create new exciting varieties with tantalizing flavor and aromas.
While “Garden Gem” and “Garden Treasure” tomato varieties
are not yet for sale, seeds can be obtained as a thank-you gift for
a $10 donation to Dr. Klee’s tomato breeding program.
The new hybrid variety has genetics that produce a deep red color, along with outstanding flavor.