The tomato’s path from wild plant to household staple is much more complex than researchers have long thought. For many years, scientists believed that humans domesticated the tomato in two major phases. First, native people in South America cultivated blueberry-sized wild tomatoes about 7,000 years ago to breed a plant with a cherry-sized fruit. Later, people in Mesoamerica bred this intermediate group further to form the large cultivated tomatoes that we eat today.
But in a 2020 study, we show that the cherry-sized tomato likely originated in Ecuador around 80,000 years ago. No human groups were domesticating plants that long ago, so this implies that it started as a wild species, although people in Peru and Ecuador probably cultivated it later.
We also found that two subgroups from this intermediate group spread northward to Central America and Mexico, possibly as weedy companions to other crops. As this happened, their fruit traits changed radically. They came to look more like wild plants, with smaller fruits than their South American counterparts and higher levels of citric acid and beta-carotene.
This research has direct implications for crop improvement. For example, some intermediate tomato groups have high levels of glucose, which makes the fruit sweeter. Breeders could use those plants to make cultivated tomatoes more attractive to consumers.
Read more at theintelligencer.com