different tomato plants showing one with double the number of tomatoes
Lippman lab/CSHL

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Twice the tomatoes on the vine, thanks to a bit of genetic tweaking

Plant geneticists have figured out how to almost double the production of garden tomatoes. Though most of us care mainly about how big or tasty our corn or tomatoes are, breeders also care about how these plants grow, as the branching patterns of stems can greatly affect the number of fruits produced or how easily they are harvested. For rice, barley, and wheat, early farmers got the stems that turn into flowers to branch more, so ultimately more grains were produced per stalk. But those branches in tomatoes still look like the wild ancestor’s—with flowers, and subsequently, fruit, arranged in a zigzag along an end branch. That’s because when breeders got increased branching as they improved other traits, they wound up with too many flowers and most fell off before the fruit formed. By examining mutant tomato plants, these researchers have now learned which genes are involved in making too many branches. These and related genes are also involved in making flowers and in fruit ripening. By altering these genes, the scientists discovered that they could breed a tomato that branched just enough in the right places to double the production of cherry tomatoes, they report today in Cell. This work is another step in understanding tomato genetics. But the question is: Do these extra tomatoes still taste good?