The Loh Down On Science

Tasteless Tomatoes

First there were pluots. Then broccoflower. Then TomBoard?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, and on why so many tomatoes taste like cardboard.

Meet Ann Powell from UC Davis. She took a molecular-level peek inside tasteless tomato tissue. The problem? One pesky little gene with a power trip.

See, back in the Twenties, a mutant tomato was born. It ripened uniformly, unlike its blotchy ancestors. The all-red fruits looked super, and sold better. Farmers instantly fell in love and have been breeding the mutant ever since.

But it has got a dark side. Powell found that the same mutated gene that enforces uniformity also hogties certain proteins. Turns out, those proteins boost photosynthesis, which gives rise to sugars and tomato-liscious flavor. Hold those proteins back, turn off taste.

When Powell used clever genetic engineering to free the proteins from their mutant master’s grip? Poof! – the fruits had 20 percent more sugary sweetness.

With tomatoes, we’ve chosen looks over substance. Now, Powell’s shown the way to one that's pretty and sweet. All the other tomatoes better ketchup!

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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