Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Genetic Diversity of Heirloom Tomatoes
Scientific American has an interesting article on the lack of genetic diversity in heirloom tomatoes--which surprises me, since I always assumed that heirlooms were older and much more diverse than those cardboard-like grocery store brands. According to the article, there are only about ten mutant genes that cause the whole spectrum of heirloom varieties! And take it from me (who works in a genetics lab), ten mutant genes is really not very much at all. (A whole tomato genome is made up of about 35,000 genes.) Unfortunately, this means that these tomatoes are very susceptible to fungal infections. Monsanto is working on a project to reintroduce disease-resistant genes into tomato lines. This is probably good news overall for farmers and gardeners, but I just don't trust Monsanto at all. So we'll see where this all goes...
One quote really caught my eye: "Heirlooms are the tomato equivalent of the pug—that 'purebred' dog with the convoluted nose that snorts and hacks when it tries to catch a breath."
One thing's for sure: genetically inbred or not, heirloom tomatoes and pugs are both wonderful things!
(Side note, check out the photos that come up when you search Flickr for "tomato pug." They're hilarious.)