PLB 105 Developmental Plant Biology

Genetically Engineered Tomatoes

The phrase "genetic engineering" often provokes negative images in the minds of the American public. Because of movies like Jurassic Park , many people think that altering the genes of organisms will only lead to large, uncontrollable dinosaurs that wreak havoc on a small island off the Costa Rican shoreline. The truth is that genetic engineering is really a tamer science than that portrayed in Jurassic Park . Most genetic engineers are making alterations in just a few genes in certain organisms, rather than creating extinct species from fragments of DNA. While scientists conduct genetic research on a variety of organisms, the ones that genetic engineers are studying for commercial purposes are mostly plants. Scientists are experimenting with many different plants, but the genetic engineering of the tomato has been the the most highly publicized project by far. Calgene, an genetic engineering company in Davis, California, sought to create, through genetic engineering, the perfect tomato.

Supermarket tomatoes are not very tasty compared to garden-grown, vine-ripened tomatoes. Calgene noted this problem and began investigating how they could genetically engineer a tomato that could ripen on the vine and still be transported without being bruised or damaged. After over a decade of research, Calgene perfected the Flavr Savr, their genetically engineered tomato. The scientists have altered the gene on the tomato that cause softening so that farmers can allow the tomato to stay on the vine for a few days longer than regular supermarket tomatoes which are picked when they are green and later exposed to the ethylene gas in order to induce redness. The few extra days thatt he Flavr Savr stays on the vine allows sugars to be transported to the fruit which makes the tomato taste better. Regular tomato varieties can ripen on the vine too, but they cannot be transported without being damaged. The Flavr Savr, however, remains firm after being picked and also has a longer shelf life than regular supermarket tomatoes.