Field of Science

Does the world need another plastic tomato?

Does the world really need another bad tomato? Researchers in India have engineered a tomato so that they may go up to 45 days after picking without rotting. But how is that possible? Well, it happens if the tomato never gets ripe.
Granted, ripe tomatoes are delicate things, easily prone to damage and they quickly go past their prime, so having a tomato with a long shelf life seems an improvement. But let’s face it, while they may look pretty for 45 days or so, they’ll taste just blah. Now of course in India, produce spoilage is without a doubt a greater problem, but you never see a fresh tomato in India anyways. They get cooked to a pulp in sambhars and curries, so it may not matter so much that they don’t taste good fresh. But here in the USA we already have plastic tomatoes in our markets, beautiful, pristine, long-lasting, perfectly- colored, blemish-free, and utterly awful. They regularly use a slice of these “never-ripen” tomatoes on fast food sandwiches and both the iceberg lettuce and wrapping paper have more taste. And what is a tomato anyways if not taste? Lots of interesting things happen at this stage in a flower’s life, and that’s what a fruit is, a flower at the stage of seed dispersal. Fleshy fruits develop color, odor, sweetness and flavor, a softer texture, all to signal to animals that this baby is a succulent reward. And by eating it we do the plant's bidding by dispersing the seeds. The researchers go to great length to point out that unlike some genetic engineering, no genes from a plastic ketchup bottle were inserted into tomato plants, but some of the tomato's own ripening genes were silenced. Somehow though a no-taste tomato with a 45-day shelf life seems to defeat the purpose of a tomato and maybe such research should be considered a crime against nature and BLTs anyways.

HT to the Scientific Indian.


Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I agree, the world is full of tasteless commercially produced tough-as-old-boots tomatoes. That's why we grow so many of our own! I'll take a home-grown, vine-ripened, so sweet it makes your mouth tingle tomato, any day!

Matt DiLeo said...

If I remember correctly that paper suggests engineering only softening pathways - which presumably wouldn't mangle flavor and nutrition pathways as much as picking them green or using the rin mutation allele. Not that it would get me to buy fresh tomatoes in winter...