How a Tiny Genetic Change Affects Tomato Firmness

Jim Crocker
18th April, 2024

How a Tiny Genetic Change Affects Tomato Firmness

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Researchers at Henan Agricultural University found a gene that affects tomato firmness and ripening
  • A specific genetic variation in this gene can make tomatoes firmer and less prone to spoilage
  • Modifying this gene could lead to tomatoes that are better for storage and transport
Tomatoes are a staple in diets worldwide, not only for their flavor but also for their nutritional value. However, their softness can make them challenging to store and transport without damage. Researchers at Henan Agricultural University have made a breakthrough that could lead to longer-lasting tomatoes[1]. By investigating the genetic factors that influence tomato firmness, they have identified a gene that plays a crucial role in determining the fruit's texture and ripening process. The study involved a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of fruit firmness in 266 tomato varieties. GWAS is a method used to scan genomes to find genetic variations associated with specific traits. This approach led to the discovery of a gene called SlEIN4, which is an ethylene receptor gene. Ethylene is a hormone that plays a significant role in the ripening of fruits, and receptors are like switches that respond to the presence of this hormone[2][3]. A single genetic change, or single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), was found within the SlEIN4 gene that differentiates tomatoes with softer (AA) and firmer (GG) fruit. By manipulating the gene, the researchers observed that overexpressing the softer variant (SlEIN4AA) delayed ripening and decreased firmness, while editing the gene with CRISPR/Cas9 technology to mimic the firmer variant (SlEIN4GG) resulted in accelerated ripening and increased firmness. These findings were further supported by microscopic examination of the tomato fruit pericarp, which is the part of the fruit that encloses the seeds. Alterations in the microstructure of the pericarp were associated with changes in firmness. Additionally, the activity of pectinase, an enzyme that breaks down pectin—a substance that helps maintain the fruit's structure—was found to be positively regulated by SlEIN4AA. The study also delved into how SlEIN4 interacts with the ethylene signaling pathway. Ethylene receptors have been previously identified as key players in the ripening process[3], and this study confirms that SlEIN4 acts as a negative regulator in tomato ripening by affecting the production of ethylene and the expression of genes involved in its pathway. This ties in with earlier research that identified ethylene as a central hormone in climacteric fruit ripening, and the various components, such as ACC synthase and ACC oxidase, that control its synthesis[3]. The research team's use of transient transformation assays, which are a way to temporarily introduce genes into plants to study their effects, confirmed that the SNP in SlEIN4 causes different genetic effects. Specifically, overexpression of the firmer variant (SlEIN4GG) increased fruit firmness. This suggests that selective breeding or genetic modification to favor the firmer variant could be a strategy to produce tomatoes that are less susceptible to damage during storage and transport. The discovery of SlEIN4's role in tomato firmness and ripening represents a significant advancement in our understanding of fruit biology. It builds upon the foundation laid by prior research on the molecular basis of fruit ripening[2], the role of ethylene and its receptors[3], and the ethylene signaling pathway[4]. The findings from this study not only shed light on the complex genetic and molecular mechanisms governing tomato quality but also offer practical applications for agriculture. By manipulating SlEIN4, it may be possible to extend the shelf life of tomatoes, reducing waste and improving the efficiency of tomato distribution networks. In conclusion, the research from Henan Agricultural University has identified a genetic switch that controls tomato firmness and ripening, providing a potential tool for improving tomato crop resilience. This could have far-reaching implications for the agricultural industry, making it possible to produce tomatoes that stay firmer for longer, thus enhancing their marketability and reducing losses from spoilage.

GeneticsBiochemPlant Science


Main Study

1) Exploring the influence of a single-nucleotide mutation in EIN4 on tomato fruit firmness diversity through fruit pericarp microstructure.

Published 16th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Signal transduction systems regulating fruit ripening.

Journal: Trends in plant science, Issue: Vol 9, Issue 7, Jul 2004

3) Ethylene biosynthesis and action in tomato: a model for climacteric fruit ripening.

Journal: Journal of experimental botany, Issue: Vol 53, Issue 377, Oct 2002

4) EIN2, a bifunctional transducer of ethylene and stress responses in Arabidopsis.

Journal: Science (New York, N.Y.), Issue: Vol 284, Issue 5423, Jun 1999

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