Build a Better Tomato at ASTA Veggie & Flower

Kelly Marshall

There’s a chemistry to the flavor of food, says horticultural science professor Harry Klee, but most growers simply aren’t set up for the intense process of studying and improving the tomatoes they grow. That’s why Klee’s team at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has been researching the chemicals that contribute to tomato flavor.

“Most everyone agrees there’s a huge problem with the commercial tomato and the flavor of those products,” Klee told attendees of the American Seed Trade Association’s Vegetable and Flower Conference in Florida last week. “We’ve set out a long term goal to understand flavor on a basic level and ultimatly how to improve it.”

First the team, which included scientists from China, Israel and Spain, identified chemicals that contribute to flavor.  Then these Chinese scientists mapped the DNA of the tomato gene to find the location of the good alleles in the genome, allowing them to replace bad alleles in modern tomato varieties with better tasting options.

“We identified the important factors that have been lost and showed how to move them back into the modern types of tomatoes,” he said, stressing that this technique involves classical genetics, not genetic modification. “We’re just fixing what has been damaged over the last half century to push them back to where they were a century ago, taste-wise. We can make the supermarket tomato taste noticeably better.”

Listen to Klee’s presentation here: Horticultural Science Professor, Harry Klee

ASTA, Audio, Vegetables