The Tomato Genome Consortium, a group of over 300 scientists from 13 countries, has sequenced the genomes of the domesticated tomato and its wild ancestor, Solanum pimpinellifolium. This achievement is expected to lower costs and speed up efforts to improve the worldwide tomato production, making it better equipped to combat the pests, pathogens, droughts and diseases that now plague growers. The work may also speed up improvements to other crops. The sequences were reported in this week's issue of Nature.
VIB as partner in the consortium, represented by Stephane Rombauts, Jeffrey Fawcett and Yves Van de Peer (PI) was mainly leading the gene prediction that translated the raw genome sequence in biological knowledge. We setup in collaboration with groups from US, UK, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy, India, Germany and France, a dedicated group solely aiming at delivering the best possible gene set biologist could use to improve tomatoes.
Together, the sequences provide the most detailed look yet at the tomato genome, revealing the order, orientation, types and relative positions of its 35,000 genes. The sequences will help researchers uncover the relationships between tomato genes and traits and broaden their understanding of how genetics and environmental factors interact to determine a field crop's health and viability. Tomato is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, and the new sequences are expected to provide reference points helpful for identifying important genes in tomato's Solanaceae relatives. The group includes potato, pepper, eggplant and petunia and is the world's most important vegetable plant family in terms of both economic value and production volume. Plant members serve as sources of food, spices and medicines.
The sequences also offer insight into how the tomato has diversified and adapted to new environments. They show that the tomato genome expanded abruptly about 60 million years ago, at a time close to one of the large mass extinctions. Subsequently, most of this genetic redundancy was lost. Some of the genes generated during that event survive till today and control some of the most appealing traits of tomato.
Previous efforts have led to the sequencing of a number of other crop plants, including rice, corn, sorghum, poplar, potato, soybean, grape and Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant widely studied as a model organism.
TGC was established as a result of a scientific conference organized in 2003 in Washington, DC. Consortium members include scientists from Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The genome sequence and related resources can be accessed at the Solgenomics website and at http://mips.
Relevant scientific publication
The research will be published in the leading journal Nature (The tomato Genome Concortium; Tomato genome sequencing and comparative analysis reveal two consecutive triplications that spawned genes influencing fruit characteristics).
This research is funded by EUSOL (FP6 Integrated Project EU-SOL PL 016214), UGent en VIB.