So today, the international team of scientists on the Tomato Gene Consortium (yes, that’s a real thing) have made headlines for what Reuters calls, cracking “the genetic code of the domesticated tomato and its wild ancestor, an achievement which should help breeders identify the genes needed to develop tastier and more nutritious varieties.”
The article goes on to state that, “Tomatoes represent a $2 billion market in the United States alone, while in Britain the market for tomatoes is worth around 625 million pounds ($980 million) a year.”
Meanwhile, a similar think-tank at the University of Florida believes that the secret to a great-tasting tomato lies in “a dozen or so volatile compounds,” according to ABC Science. The scientific team “examined 152 types of ‘heirloom’ varieties to determine what makes the best-tasting tomato.”
The result findings are that a specific type of apocarotenoid (geek-speak for “organic compound”) makes tomatoes taste sweeter, rather than higher levels of sugar, as previously thought.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that “the team are now breeding tomatoes that produce more apocarotenoids to look for a genetic link to flavor. Explained one of the researchers, “Consumers care deeply about tomatoes. One could do worse than to be known as the person who helped fix flavor.”
Yes, one could do worse. Like be a scientist trying to justify needlessly fucking with our food supply in order to fulfill demand from BigAg, and wholesalers and retailers unconcerned with the effects of unnecessary GMO foods. Or do pointless things like genetically engineer hybrid tomatoes to taste like heirloom tomatoes.
The irony behind these statements and studies is that heirloom tomatoes–as well as other antique varieties of produce–first made a reappearance in the marketplace (aka farmers markets) because consumers longed for fruit that tasted like “the real thing,” and were increasingly accepting of the fact that out-of-season produce isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In the last decade, heirloom tomatoes have gone about as mainstream as an heirloom crop–one that hasn’t been genetically altered with to withstand the rigors of long-distance transport and is bred for durability and shelf-life, rather than flavor–possibly can. Once found only at farmers markets, they now populate the produce department of even some mainstream grocery chains, for a premium price, of course (I’m not saying this is a bad thing).
Heirloom crops fell by the wayside in the early to mid-20th century, because they were bred for flavor, not looks or longevity. With the backlash in GMO foods came a revival of heirloom foods. This is in part due to the concern amongst small-scale farmers and savvy consumers that relying upon a handful of hybridized crops is a great way to destroy genetic diversity, and set us up for a global famine should disease or pesticide-resistance (thanks, Monsanto) result in widespread crop failure.
Why are scientists receiving funding that’s ultimately about destroying the progress small farms and the marketplace have made over the last decade? There are many ways to use GMO”s for the good of humanity (increasing specific nutrient contents in crops grown in regions plagued by deficient soil, creating crops more resistant to drought, etc.), not wallet-padding.
[Photo love: Flickr user tankgirls]