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Government backs UK's role in International Tomato Gene Sequencing

Dr Graham Seymour Warwick HRI with tomatos
Dr Graham Seymour Warwick HRI
with tomatoes
( Print Version)

British researchers are celebrating the announcement that they are to play a major role in an international project to sequence the genes of tomato. Unravelling the genetic information of tomato will greatly enhance conventional breeding strategies and enable the generation of new crop varieties with improved disease resistance and nutritional quality.

The £700,000 three and a half year research project is being led by researchers from Imperial College London, University of Warwick and the Scottish Crop Research Institute. The grant is supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Scottish Executive Environment Rural Affairs department (SEERAD). The team will use the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridgeshire for the sequencing.

Tomatoes are not only a significant commercial crop world-wide, but a model plant species for studying quality traits in all fleshy fruit-bearing species. Tomatoes are a member of the Solanaceae family of plants and information gained in this project will directly impact on research into the world's most widely consumed Solanaceae vegetable crops including potatoes, peppers and aubergine (eggplant).

The 12 chromosomes present in tomato have been allocated to 10 international teams for sequencing, as part of an overarching "International Solanaceae Genome Project". US researchers will sequence three chromosomes, while teams from the UK, China, France, Japan, Korea, Italy, India, The Netherlands and Spain will each study an individual chromosome. The British Team led by Imperial and Warwick will examine the gene rich regions of tomato chromosome 4.

Dr Graham Seymour, co-leader of the project at the University of Warwick's horticultural research arm, Warwick HRI, believes that the new research will be of enormous benefit to everyone involved in improvement of fruit and vegetables crops in the Solanaceae class. "We are confident that sequencing of the tomato genome will provide a goldmine of information. For the first time, we will be able to rapidly identify genes responsible for important crop traits and, by accessing the immense natural variation in the gene pool, produce new and improved varieties through conventional breeding programmes."

And Dr Gerard Bishop, project co-ordinator at Imperial College London, believes the launch of the sequencing programme could not have come at a better time.
"We are witnessing a renewed interest in invigorating crop science in the UK and our research will make a key contribution to this. We also believe that the availability of the tomato genome sequence will prove invaluable to the large number of UK research groups who are working on Solancaeous species and provided support for this grant."

The project has the backing of British tomato growers who are acutely aware of the benefits that British participation in this project will bring. Gerry Hayman, Executive Officer of the Tomato Growers Association says: "Technical innovation has been the lifeblood of British growers. We have achieved spectacular improvements in productivity developing a wide range of new tomato types in response to consumer demand with the emphasis firmly on flavour and high nutrient content. Growers have had to be pragmatic in recognising that some new technologies, such as GM, are not currently acceptable to consumers. But this project should help to pinpoint desirable characteristics in the genetic make-up of the tomato so these can be introduced into new varieties by conventional breeding methods. We want to continue to make British tomatoes the best you can buy."

For further information about the International Genome Sequencing initiative, visit the SGN website at http://www.sgn.cornell.edu/index.html

For further Information please contact: Dr Graham Seymour, Warwick HRI,
University of Warwick Tel: 024 76 575097
Email: Graham.Seymour@warwick.ac.uk

Dr Gerard Bishop can be reached through Wendy Raeside at Imperial College on 0207 594 2624

Peter Dunn, Press and Media Relations Manager
University of Warwick 02476 523708
mobile 07767 655860
p.j.dunn@warwick.ac.uk

PR135 PJD 30th November 2004

Dr Graham Seymour Warwick HRI with tomatos
Dr Graham Seymour
Warwick HRI with tomatoes
( Print Version)