Wageningen UR and KeyGene together with their partners in the Tomato Genome Consortium have 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 pests, pathogens, droughts and diseases that plague growers. The work may also speed up improvements to other crops. The sequences were reported in this week’s issue of Nature.

Together, the sequences provide the most detailed look yet at the functional portions of 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, a group of over 300 scientists from fourteen countries, was established as a result of a scientific conference organized in 2003in Washington, D.C. Consortium members include scientists from Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

The genome sequence and related resources can be accessed at the Solgenomics website (http://solgenomics.net) and at http://mips.helmholtz-muenchen.de/plant/tomato/index.jsp.