Could This Be the End of Mushy Tomatoes?

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There’s nothing quite like a tomato at the peak of ripeness — firm, round and beautifully deep-hued, fragrant and sweet. Honestly, a good, ripe tomato is like candy.

Yet a few days later, that same tomato, past its prime, may be soft, puckered and hardly appealing — which is why, one imagines, the fruit is now getting the full GMO treatment from researchers.

In a paper in the journal Nature Biotechnology, researchers said they had altered the DNA of tomato plants to lengthen the tomatoes’ shelf life and prevent them from getting soft, mushy and puckered fully two weeks after they were harvested.

According to a Wall Street Journal report about the study, which was partly funded by Syngenta AG, a Swiss agrochemical company that makes pesticides and seeds, the genetically modified tomato plants and those grown in the typical manner produced roughly the same number of tomatoes per plant, and the tomatoes were molecularly similar in terms of taste, color and smell. However, the researchers have no idea how the GMO tomatoes actually tasted; the scientists conducted their work in the U.K., where the consumption of GMO foods is illegal, so they weren’t able to sample them.

What’s more, the prospect of the GMO tomatoes appearing on your grocery store shelves sounds remote. The commercial market is basically not large enough to offset the regulatory hurdles, USDA plant molecular biologist James Giovannoni told the Journal. “That is why the GMOs [genetically modified organisms] currently in the market are major crops, like maize or soy,” he said.

Rather, tomato growers may use insights from the study so they can crossbreed the fruits to replicate some of the shelf-life-prolonging benefits related to the genes pinpointed in the study — hopefully without compromising taste.

Photo courtesy of iStock