Washington: Researchers have discovered an evolutionary function in wild tomato plants that could be used by modern plant breeders to create pest-resistant tomatoes.
Researchers have traced the evolution of a specific gene that produces a sticky compound at the ends of the hair at the Solanum pennellii plant found in the Atacama Desert in Peru.
These sticky hairs act as natural insect repellents to protect the plant, ensuring that it will survive to reproduce.
"We have identified a gene that exists in this wild plant, but not in cultivated tomatoes. The invertase-like enzyme creates insecticidal compounds not found in the tomato variety garden. This defensive trait could be created in modern plants, "said Rob Last, a professor of plant biochemistry in the study published in the Journal of Science Advances.
"We want our current tomatoes to adapt to stress like this wild tomato, but we can only do this by understanding the traits that make them resistant. We are using evolution to teach us how to be better breeders and biologists. For example, how can we increase crop yields by creating a pest-resistant plant and eliminating the need to spray the fields with insecticides, "said Leong, co-lead author.
This discovery is a step towards understanding the natural resistance of insects to the plants of Solanum pennellii, which could allow the introduction of this characteristic in tomatoes grown using traditional breeding practices.