Accelerating breeding for heat tolerance in tomato

Heat stress is a major limiting factor for crop productivity. Tomato is highly sensitive to heat stress, which can result in a total yield loss. To adapt to current and future heat stress, there is a dire need to develop heat tolerant cultivars. Researchers have reviewed recent attempts to improve screening for heat tolerance and to exploit genetic and genomic resources in tomatoes.

The researchers provide key factors related to phenotyping environments and traits (morphological, physiological, and metabolic) to be considered to identify and breed thermo-tolerant genotypes. There is significant variability in tomato germplasm that can be harnessed to breed for thermo-tolerance.

Based on their review, they propose that the use of advanced backcross populations and chromosome segments substitution lines is the best means to exploit variability for heat tolerance in non-cultivated tomato species.

They applied a meta quantitative trait loci (MQTL) analysis on data from four mapping experiments to co-localize QTL associated with heat tolerance traits (e.g., pollen viability, number of pollen, number of flowers, style protrusion, style length). The analysis revealed 13 MQTL of which 11 were composed of a cluster of QTL. Overall, there was a reduction of about 1.5-fold in the confidence interval (CI) of the MQTL (31.82 cM) compared to the average CI of individual QTL (47.4 cM).

This confidence interval is still large and additional mapping resolution approaches such as association mapping and multi-parent linkage mapping are needed. Further investigations are required to decipher the genetic architecture of heat tolerance surrogate traits in tomatoes. Genomic selection and new breeding techniques including genome editing and speed breeding hold promise to fast-track development of improved heat tolerance and other farmer- and consumer-preferred traits in tomatoes.

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