Crop Biotech Update

Researchers Find Genetic Mechanism for Controlling the Shape of Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains

November 14, 2018

Scientists from the University of Georgia discovered a genetic mechanism that governs the shape of fruits, vegetables, and grains. The results of the study are published in Nature Communications.

"We may be able to explain the shapes of many fruits and vegetables through a similar mechanism to the one we described in tomatoes," said Esther van der Knaap, professor of horticulture and leader of the study. "We found that in tomatoes, plant cells in the fruit divide in a column or in a row and that will determine their shape," van der Knaap said. "We also found that this mechanism is likely the same in several other plant species: melons, cucumbers, potatoes. We've even been able to go as far as finding that the same mechanism controls the shape of rice grains as well as leaves."

In her previous study, van der Knaap and team found that the genetic sequences responsible for controlling cell division or cell size. Each of the genes gives a hint about how the fruits are formed wherein some affect the size and shape of the fruit at the later stages of development, just before the fruit is ripening, while the others affect the shape and size much earlier even before flowering. 

In her latest study, van der Knaap found similar sets of shape-control genes in other plants. In potato, the gene that controls the tuber shape is found in the same location in the genome as the gene that controls tomato fruit shape. In other plants, the shape-control genes may not in the same place, but it is perceived they act in the same manner, controlling the horizontal or vertical structure in cell division.

The findings about genetic control of shape are vital not just for plant breeders, but also for better understanding of plant evolution and development.

For more information, visit the van der Knaap lab website.