Tomatoes are the most consumed berry fruit in the world and a key component of many culinary recipes. In farmers markets, you will find different types of tomatoes suitable for various dishes. Such markets are of course heaven for chefs and foodies but offer a challenge for tomato breeders. The ability of geneticists and breeders to develop tomatoes in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and tastes is remarkable. On the other hand, the tomato market (especially the fresh tomato) is broken into hundreds of different types. Tomato breeding is heavily segmented, not only by fruit color/shape/size but also by the geography of cultivation, growing season, greenhouse versus outdoors, and others. Breeding efforts are specific to a single market segment. Tomato breeding budgets in seed companies are also divided between all segments covered by the company. Most tomato seed companies use DNA markers to advance key traits, with the most commonly used DNA markers being those that are relevant to all breeding segments. The main use of DNA markers is to identify key genes, as each gene harbors natural resistance to a given tomato disease. Other commonly used DNA markers are utilized to identify fruit firmness or color. The use of other DNA markers for key quality traits such as taste and aroma is rare. Advancing such traits is largely done by “old fashion breeding”, by visually inspecting and tasting the fruits of thousands of individual plants, seeking the best ones and hoping the improved shape, color and/or taste will be inherited. At NRGene, we love tomatoes! Using our advanced genomic tools can help identify DNA markers for many additional important traits, some of which are controlled by multiple genes. The broader use of DNA markers in breeding (genotyping) is coupled with a significant reduction in genotyping costs. In order to lower genotyping cost, NRGene formed the first commercial tomato pangenome consortium of academia and companies. The established pangenome is a comparison of the full genomic content of many key commercial varieties. Using the pangenome, it is now much easier to identify DNA markers for more commercially important traits. NRGene’s pangenome database is already in use in multiple breeding programs around the world. Recently, NRGene launched a collaboration with a tomato breeding company, Philoseed, in a joint effort to fight the growing spread of the Tobamovirus disease worldwide. The goal is to create a DNA marker for the Tobamovirusdisease resistance trait in tomatoes. With the most advanced technology available, the industry can identify the genetic basis of quality traits and ensure that the right genetic combination is included in newly developed varieties.

Gil Ronen, Ph.D.

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