CASE STUDY – Differentiating Tomato Flavour with Deep Variant Scanning

In 2013, the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers identified a “market pull” for tomatoes with differentiated flavour.

The breeding program at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland), together with partners at l’Université Laval and the University of Florida, have been working to fill the tomato flavour gap ever since.

While flavour has often taken a backseat to production traits like yield or disease resistance, a reverse genetics platform – centred on Deep Variant Scanning (DVS) – has allowed researchers to tackle both problems simultaneously. The goal is to develop locally-adapted tomatoes-on-the-vine that are full of flavour and also perform well when grown in Canadian greenhouses. The result will be new, uniquely Canadian tomato varieties giving Canadian growers a competitive advantage.

Outcomes and Achievements

Creating new, flavourful, locally-adapted varieties of tomatoes-on-the-vine. By leveraging genomics-based technologies, this project will deliver flavourful tomatoes with enhanced consumer appeal, combined with local adaptation of agronomic traits to mitigate risks to yield and quality. These uniquely Canadian tomato varieties will enhance the competitiveness of growers, allowing them to capture a larger share of Canadian and export markets, with total annual direct economic benefits estimated at more than $30 million across the sector. Vineland’s breeding program is already incorporating consumer-preferred flavour traits into Canadian-adapted tomatoes-on-the-vine, which could be available to consumers as early as 2023.

Meeting consumer demands. Flavourful tomato varieties that are well-suited to Canadian growing conditions offer an opportunity for retailers to carry locally-grown tomatoes that consumers desire. The DVS technology also offers an alternative, non-GMO platform for trait development, bypassing the regulatory hurdles and poor consumer opinion that have prevented some transgenic tomatoes from becoming a commercial success.

Providing tractable genetic tools for R&D outputs and commercial products. New tomato lines harbouring flavour gene variants provide tractable genetic tools that can be used by breeders to develop consumer-preferred flavour profiles. Future breeding efforts can also exploit collateral knowledge gained from this genomics-based approach, such as the discovery of three new genes involved in tomato aroma and a previously unknown branch of tomato metabolism. These new insights and tools provide an opportunity to create and continually improve elite tomato cultivars, strengthening the pipeline of R&D outputs and commercial products.

Paving the way for new vegetable varieties. This project provides proof-of-concept for the use of DVS to decode the genetics of flavour chemistry. A similar approach can be taken with other fruits and vegetables, aiding in the development of new cultivars with differentiated and consumer-preferred flavour and creating wins across the sector.