Researchers of the University of Almería have published in the magazine PNAS new genetic clues about increasing the size of tomato fruit. These keys are related to the ENO protein (for its acronym in English ‘excessive number of floral organs’). This protein is encoded by a new gene discovered in the tomato genome, and whose function has been well established by the Research Group led by Prof. Rafael Lozano, Professor of Genetics.

The researchers of the University of Almería, in collaboration with the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology of Plants (IBMCP) of the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) of Francehave shown that ENO played an important role in increasing fruit size during tomato domestication and in the formation of larger multilocular fruits. Through genetic analysis techniques, massive sequencing and CRISPR-Cas9 have successfully isolated the gene ENO and the corresponding protein, for further study. Thus, they have verified that ENO It plays an essential role in regulating fruit size, but this function begins during the development of the floral meristem, the tissue of a plant that houses the stem cells that will give rise to the flowers.

The researchers point out that the large size of fruit that some current varieties of tomato that we eat have is determined by the final number of cavities or locules in the (compartments where the seeds are located) that are formed in a fruit, and that corresponds to the number of carpels that develop in the ovary of a flower. In this sense, the study reveals that a protein mutation ENO it leads to an increase in the size of the floral meristem, and this due to the fact that the cell domains where the gene that determines the identity of the stem cells of the flower is extended. The end result is an increase in the number of carpels and finally the production of large, multiloculated and rib-shaped fruits. In vitro tests also indicate that ENO It directly regulates the expression domains of the meristematic identity gene, playing a crucial role in maintaining the stem cell homeostasis of the floral meristem.

This research shows that in the wild ancestor of tomato (S. pimpinellifolium) there are different genetic variants of ENO, one of which represents a deletion in the promoter region of the gene, which was selected during domestication, thus establishing the genetic background conducive to increasing fruit size in modern tomatoes.

In the opinion of the scientists of the UAL, the results of this research, published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals worldwide, will not only reveal the genetic and molecular mechanisms that govern the differentiation of plant stem cells (meristematic cells), but this study provides tools that can already be used in the development of new varieties with a size appropriate to the demands of farmers and consumers, which will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for improving agricultural productivity.

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