Identification of tomato accessions as source of new genes for improving heat tolerance

Due to global warming, the search for new sources for heat tolerance and the identification of genes involved in this process has become an important challenge as of today. The main objective of the current research was to verify whether the heat tolerance determined in controlled greenhouse experiments could be a good predictor of the agronomic performance in field cultivation under climatic high temperature stress.

Tomato accessions were grown in greenhouse under three temperature regimes: control (T1), moderate (T2) and extreme heat stress (T3). Reproductive traits (flower and fruit number and fruit set) were used to define heat tolerance. In a first screening, heat tolerance was evaluated in 219 tomato accessions. A total of 51 accessions were identified as being potentially heat tolerant. Among those, 28 accessions, together with 10 accessions from Italy (7) and Bulgaria (3), selected for their heat tolerance in the field in parallel experiments, were re-evaluated at three temperature treatments. Sixteen tomato accessions showed a significant heat tolerance at T3, including five wild species, two traditional cultivars and four commercial varieties, one accession from Bulgaria and four from Italy. The 15 most promising accessions for heat tolerance were assayed in field trials in Italy and Bulgaria, confirming the good performance of most of them at high temperatures.

Finally, a differential gene expression analysis in pre-anthesis (ovary) and post-anthesis (developing fruit) under heat stress among pairs of contrasting genotypes (tolerant and sensitive from traditional and modern groups) showed that the major differential responses were produced in post-anthesis fruit. The response of the sensitive genotypes included the induction of HSP genes, whereas the tolerant genotype response included the induction of genes involved in the regulation of hormones or enzymes such as abscisic acid and transferases.

The high temperature tolerance of fifteen tomato accessions observed in controlled greenhouse experiments were confirmed in agronomic field experiments providing new sources of heat tolerance that could be incorporated into breeding programs. A DEG analysis showed the complex response of tomato to heat and deciphered the different mechanisms activated in sensitive and tolerant tomato accessions under heat stress.

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Gonzalo, M.J., Nájera, I., Baixauli, C. et al. Identification of tomato accessions as source of new genes for improving heat tolerance: from controlled experiments to field. BMC Plant Biol 21, 345 (2021). 

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