Vicky BoydResearchers from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have found that a set of chemical changes in plant DNA plays a key role in tomato ripening.
The changes, known as epigenetics, signal to the fruit when to redden, according to a news release.
The research results could help breeders develop varieties that can survive transportation from the farm to grocery stores with flavor and texture intact.
The researchers published their work on the journal Nature Biotechnology's website, www.nature.com.
In the past, breeding focused on DNA sequence variation in the genome.
"This opens a new era. Now it's possible to use epigenetic variation rather than just changes in DNA sequence to breed better crops," Zhangjun Fei, paper co-author and associate professor at the Cornell University-based institute.
The epigenetic information can actually override instructions contained in an organism's DNA—in this case, when to start ripening.
The researchers are following up on their findings to determine whether they see similar patterns in other fruit.