Florida growers yielded 606 million pounds of fresh-market tomatoes and $463 million of revenue last year. That is tremendous success, though competition from Mexico continues to put pressure on the state’s producers.
That’s why University of Florida scientist Tong Geon Lee spends most of his research time in the lab and fields looking for the right combination of genes. He hopes to expand the size of individual tomatoes and help growers increase their yields.
“Fruit size, especially large fruit, is a particularly important trait for fresh-market tomato production, especially in the United States, because of the market demand,” said Lee, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. “I’m particularly interested in the size and quantity of fruit per plant. Growers could make more money if they have tomato plants that produce more large fruit on each plant. I’m also interested in other yield-related traits such as longer shelf life.”
Various factors can lead to a larger harvest, including tomato varieties that are resistance to pests and diseases. Lee also looks for genes that can help offset those stressors.
Lee presented his latest research to growers this week at the Florida Tomato Conference in Labelle, Florida. In his latest research, Lee is using a combination of genome-sequencing, statistics and advanced math to find a consistent pattern of DNA associated with increased tomato production and size.
Every tomato contains about 35,000 genes. Each gene, a collection of DNA, is responsible for traits such as the red color consumers associate with most tomatoes. Genes also factor in the size of tomatoes and how many can grow on one plant.
“With the completion of this project, we should eventually be able to provide the information necessary for the enhancement of tomato yield through breeding,” Lee said. “Especially high yield is important because with it, we can help ensure food security with good-quality tomatoes. Farmers can increase profits as well.”