The genome of the tomato and its wild ancestor, Solanum pimpinellifolium, was sequenced by the Tomato Genome Consortium (TGC), a group of over 300 scientists from fourteen different countries. This important result, which will reduce costs and will simplify the efforts to improve tomato production fighting pests and drought is reported as cover story this week in the journal Nature (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v485/n7400/pdf/ nature11119.pdf).
The sequence provides a detailed overview of the functional portions of the tomato genome and its closer ancestor, revealing the order and structure of their 35,000 genes. Tomato belongs to the Solanaceae family, which includes potatoes, peppers and eggplant, as well as ornamental plants or medicines, such as petunia, tobacco, nightshade and mandrake. The members of this family have adapted to different ecosystems, from tropical rainforests to the Atacama Desert.
The sequence has revealed the molecular basis of this adaptation. It shows that the genome of tomato ‘”tripled” suddenly about 60 million years ago, in a short period of mass extinction that led to the disappearance of the dinosaurs. Subsequently, most of the “tripled” genes were lost, while some of those survivors specialized and now control important features of the plant, including those of the berry, such as growth time, consistency, and red pigmentation.
The sequence will serve as a reference for other species of Solanaceae and comparative genomic studies both within the Solanaceae, or for other plants. The Tomato Genome Consortium was founded in 2003 in Washington, and includes scientists from Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain and the United States. The genome sequence and related resources are freely accessible on the following websites: http://solgenomics.net; http://mips.helmholtz-muenchen.de/plant/tomato/index.jsp.