Often confused as a vegetable, the tomato is one of the highest in-demand fruits with over 129,000 tonnes produced world wide in 2008 alone (source: wikipedia). In a recent article published in Nature Genetics scientists reported a method for increasing tomato yield by up to 60%. Researchers screened a tomato mutant library of over 5,000 plants each with a single mutations in a specific gene regulating tomato growth and selected out 33 mutants that produced low yield. The mutants were then crossed with their normal counterparts and analysed for improve yield. Using this method, scientists were able to identify florigen as a key protein regulating tomato plant yield. This process is also known as heterosis which is the phenomenon by which crossing two varieties of plants causes overdominance and produces strong hybrid offspring with higher yields.
One of the key take away messages from this study is that plant growers should think twice before discarding their mutant plants (currently a common practice among horticulturists). They just may hold the secret to a bumper crop.