Farmers can double their tomato yield by combining gene variants from a new set of genes, discovered by scientists at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in the US.
"To increase crop yields, we want plants to produce as many flowers and fruits as possible, but this requires energy - energy that is produced in leaves," said professor Zachary Lippman from CSHL.
In tomatoes and all other flowering plants, the balance between vegetative growth and flowers is controlled by a pair of opposing hormones called florigen and anti-florigen.
A mutation in florigen can shift the balance between vegetative growth and flowering, modifying plant architecture in a way that increases yield, the researchers had earlier found.
In the new study, the researchers identified an array of new gene mutations that allow for the fine-tuning of the balance between florigen to anti-florigen.
This maximises fruit production without compromising the energy from leaves needed to support those fruits, the researchers noted.
"We mixed and matched all of the mutations," Lippman added.
The breakthrough benefit, Lippman noted, is that it allows farmers to customise genetic variations for particular varieties and growing conditions.
"We found that different combinations boost yields for cherry tomatoes and other fresh market tomatoes compared to tomatoes that are processed for sauce, ketchup and other canned products," Lippman concluded.
The researchers noted that these results are likely to be broadly applicable to other flowering crops.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Genetics.