Thanks to endowment, UF adds tomato breeder, doubling its efforts

08/11/2011 04:13:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

If you’re a Florida grower seeking better tasting, higher-yielding, more disease resistant tomatoes, you’ll be glad to hear that the University of Florida’s tomato breeding program has doubled its efforts to produce just that—with help from a Paul J. DiMare Foundation endowment.

Sam Hutton has signed on as an assistant professor in the horticultural sciences department at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma to serve as the department’s second tomato breeder. Jay Scott, a horticulture professor at the center, is the department’s other tomato breeder.

Hutton spent six years working as a graduate student, then as a post-doctoral researcher, in the university’s tomatobreeding program before being hired in November. His research focused on resistance to tomato yellow leaf curl virus and to bacterial leaf spot.

Hutton’s hiring was welcome news to Reggie Brown, manager of the Maitlandbased Florida Tomato Committee.

The tomato industry contributes up to $750 million to Florida’s economy every year, he says.

With increasing competition from growers in Mexico and Canada, cost management and productivity are important to maintain a viable tomato industry in the state, he says.

“That’s why a breeding program has been consistently supported by the industry.”

Funding Hutton’s position made sense for DiMare Inc. of Homestead, Fla., says Paul DiMare, president of the 82-year-old familyowned business.

“We couldn’t do that type of research, so we try to support the systems that have supported the industry over the years,” he says. “The University of Florida is one of the well-known ag centers in the country.”

Hutton already has made progress in several research areas.

TYLCV

“Tomato yellow leaf curl virus is a major problem for Florida production,” DiMare says.

If the leaves of your tomato plants curl and turn yellow, and if the overall growth of the plant is stunted, there’s a good chance they’ve been hit by TYLCV. The younger the plant is when it’s infected, the more pronounced the symptoms and the greater the yield loss.

The disease is transmitted by whiteflies, some of which have developed a tolerance to insecticides.

Researchers successfully have bred resistance genes from wild tomatoes into cultivated tomatoes to make a product that’s resistant to TYLCV, Hutton says. The bad news is that the resistance genes can be accompanied by genes that adversely impact yields and horticultural characteristics, a condition known as linkage drag.


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