Tomatoes have not always been colored red, at least that is the new theory laid out by René Klein Lankhorst, the Wageningen UR coordinator of the tomato genome research project.
According to Lankhorst the tomato plant nearly tripled in size about 60 to 70 million years ago and developed other characteristics to survive. According to Lankhorst:
“Such a big genome expansion points to extremely stressful conditions. We suspect that the meteorite crash and the resulting solar eclipse had created conditions difficult for plants to survive. A distant ancestor of the tomato plant then reacted by expanding its genome considerably in order to increase its chances of survival.”
As conditions improved the tomato plant lost many of its newly acquired characteristics but kept the train that left it red in color. Thankfully the genes in the plant that caused toxins were dispelled. The genetic change in the tomato allowed it to differentiate itself from the potato which is a family member to the tomato but has no edible fruits.
Researchers have mapped 35 thousand genes for the tomato plant which allowed them to “look back” over time, noticing even the smallest of changes that took place within the tomato plant.
The tomato gene sequence has been in the mapping process since 2004 and the first analysis from the genome project is published this week in Nature.
Whether or not a meteor crashing into earth during the time of the dinosaurs really led to red tomatoes we will never fully know but the research none-the-less is interest and offers a possible glimpse into the amazing steps mother nature will take when it comes to protecting the planets food supply.