Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

Tomatoes going wild: cultivated tomato pimped with resistances of a natural species

26 November 2012

Researchers of the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS) and the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) gave cultivated tomatoes back some of their primal natural powers.

In the high ranking journal PNAS of this week they argue that their “back to nature” approach is a very suitable tool for reducing pesticide usage significantly. Most crops are wimps: they often have only few of their natural resistances against pests left since these got lost during decades of crop breeding in a protected environment. This is why we often need large amounts of toxic pesticides to help plants to combat their natural enemies. Cultivated tomato is such a plant. It makes lots of nice big juicy fruits but is hardly capable of dealing with common pests like spider mites or whiteflies. However, wild tomatoes are very different: their fruits are hardly edible while they are densely covered with sticky hairs and toxins. Not many plant eaters dare to touch a wild tomato. This inspired the team of Robert Schuurink, Petra Bleeker (SILS) and Merijn Kant (IBED) to cross the biosynthetic pathway for the substance “epi-zingiberene”, which they showed previously to deter whiteflies, of wild tomatoes back into the cultivated tomato. Doing so greatly enhanced protection of this plants to spider mites and whiteflies.

Boris Jansen

Published by  IBED