Friday, June 29, 2012

Why are garden tomatoes so much better than store bought tomatoes?

Nearly everything grown in the garden is better than store bought.  Somethings grown in the garden are so much better though there isn't really a comparison of the two.  Tomatoes are one such garden vegetable (or fruit!).  Of course, the garden produces vegetables that are only minutes old off of plants babied by the gardener and in optimal soil.  All this sets garden produce up for better taste over large scale farm produce shipped hundreds of miles to your local supermarket.  This is only part of the reason why garden grown tomatoes are so much better than store bought though.  Over many decades of tomato breeding programs, plant scientists have been able to produce tomatoes that store well and are firm enough to withstand the bumps and bruises of the shipping process.  The problem is this breeding process somehow "turned-off" the gene that produces the sweet garden fresh tomato taste found in common garden type tomatoes.  This type of problem is not isolated to tomatoes though.  Some modern roses, through years of breeding to produce a rose that withstands shipping and has fewer or no thorns lost their genetic ability to smell good.  So today, it is pretty common to find roses at the flower shop that have virtually no sent at all.  With researchers recently finding the taste gene that was turned-off in the tomato breeding process there is hope though that plant breeders will again be able to breed garden taste back into tomatoes.  There problems of turning off genes is also a good example of how genetics and breeding works.  You can selectively breed plants or animals in such a way to pick out specific traits such as large fruit, firmness, lack of thorns or so on.  The problem is that you can only do so much of this.  You can only breed tomatoes that are so big and then you can't breed them any larger.  There are limits to what plant breeding and genetics can do.  Corn, probably the most amazingly bred crop, has been bred to grow 15 feet tall.  The shortest varieties grow only two or so feet tall.  I don't think it would ever be genetically possible to produce a variety of corn that could grow 100 feet tall.  It trying to select for different traits other traits must decline to allow for the selected trait to be expressed increasingly.  That is exactly what has happened to tomatoes and roses.  As certain traits were selected for increasingly, other traits such as taste went by the wayside as the plant increasingly supported the selected for trait.

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