Researchers Find Gene That Gives Vegetables Their Shape


University of Georgia researchers have identified the genes involved in giving tomatoes their various shapes.

University of Georgia (UGA) researchers have found the genetic mechanism that controls the shape of fruits, vegetables, and grains, a university spokesman announces.

Horticulture Professor Esther van der Knaap and her team at UGA detail the genetic traits that have been shown to control the fruit, leaf, and seed shapes of plants in an article published Nov. 10 in the journal Nature Communications.


The team studied tomatoes, although they believe their work has broader implications. The National Science Foundation and the USDA funded the work.

“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 says. “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.”

Van der Knaap’s team located similar sets of shape-control genes in other vegetables. Potatoes, being closely related to tomatoes, has the gene controlling tuber shape in the same location in the genome as the tomato-shaping gene.

In other plants, the shape-control genes may not be in the same place. But they likely act in the same manner, controlling the horizontal or vertical structure in cell division.

Built on Earlier Work

The project is actually an expansion on an earlier work, which located the genes that account for the wide variety of tomato shapes and sizes.

In those studies, she found that the genetic sequences that control the shape and size of tomatoes do so by controlling cell division or cell size. Each of these genes tells a small part of the story about how the fruits form, said van der Knaap. Some affect the size and shape of the fruit at the later stages of development, just before the fruit is ripening. Others affect the shape and size much earlier, even before flowering.

Beyond helping breeders, the research will likely also provide a better understanding of plant evolution and development.