The quest for more flavorful fruit has long been a driving force behind Vineland’s greenhouse tomato breeding work, which also harnesses the expertise of its consumer insights and biochemistry teams.

Now, together with scientists from Université Laval and the University of Florida, Vineland has zeroed in on genes responsible for flavor and created a genetic toolbox that breeding programs worldwide can use to develop tastier greenhouse tomato varieties. It includes a collection of over 100 flavor-related tomato gene variants. More than 20 of those isolated genes impact aroma chemistry and six contribute to specific differentiated flavors.

“This is an exciting discovery in tomato breeding and for the Canadian greenhouse industry,” says David Liscombe, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Biochemistry. “Traditional plant breeding can only go so far, and we’ve approached it by understanding tomato sensory attributes that matter to consumers and by applying this knowledge to the selection process using genomics and metabolite profiling tools.”

Vineland’s Amy Bowen, Ph.D., Program Leader, Consumer Insights and David Liscombe, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Biochemistry. 

Vineland harnessed the power of its patented DVS technology, exclusively licensed to spin-off company Platform Genetics Inc., to identify tomato lines with rare versions of genes that could influence tomato aroma. A shortlist of candidates was generated from which the Vineland team grew plants and evaluated the fruit to find those with different aroma chemistry compared to the common or wild-type version of the genes.

Different chemistry does not necessarily mean differentiated flavor, so that is where Vineland’s consumer insights experts stepped in to taste test tomatoes. “The results of the sensory studies identified at least six different lines with altered chemistry which were actually perceived by the sensory panelists as having different flavors,” says Amy Bowen, Ph.D., Program Leader, Consumer Insights. Based on how they align with attributes on the tomato flavor preference map developed by Vineland in 2017, some are predicted to score high in consumer expectations for taste and flavor.

Promising breeding lines 
Given this breakthrough, Vineland is using the most promising breeding lines with those consumer-preferred traits to add new, flavor-differentiated tomato hybrids to its Canadian-adapted tomato-on-the-vine (TOV) program. Canadian growers have been trialing early hybrids which are being commercialized through an agreement with Eminent Seeds.

This will yield benefits to Canadian greenhouse tomato growers and consumers who buy their product, but the impact of Vineland’s new flavor discoveries will potentially be felt far beyond North America. “The entire genetic toolbox is available to other tomato breeding programs interested in improving the flavor of their lines, a goal that could be achieved by using our breeding lines and their corresponding set of DNA markers,” adds Bowen.

The project has also uncovered a new tomato metabolism pathway influencing the production of specific tomato aroma characteristics. According to Liscombe, a similar approach could uncover the genetics of flavor chemistry in other fruits and vegetables and support the development of new cultivars with differentiated and consumer-preferred flavors.

This article was originally published in the Vineland innovation report. Read the complete report here.

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