What give vegetables their shape?

One genetic mechanism is responsible for controlling the shape of tomatoes as well as the length of potato tubers.


Sometimes you pick a cherry from the bag only to find it doesn’t look like a normal cherry. There’s always that occasional fruit or vegetable that doesn’t match up with their peers, maybe they are too small, too big or too oblong, or maybe they just look like a butterfly instead of a strawberry.

Vegetables, fruits, and grains come in almost every size and shape. But what controls the shape of our favorite fruits, vegetables, and grains?

Scientists at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences have found the answer to this question. They recently discovered the genetic mechanism that alters the final fruit, vegetable shape.

Scientists studied genetic traits, shared by multiple plants, that have been shown to control fruit, leaf and seed shape.

Esther van der Knaap, professor of horticulture said, “We may be able to explain the shapes of many fruits and vegetables through a similar mechanism to the one we described in tomatoes.”

In tomatoes, scientists found that the plant cells get divided in a column or in a row to determine the shape. The similar mechanism can also be seen in several other plant species: melons, cucumbers, potatoes. The same mechanism controls the shape of rice grains as well as leaves.

Scientists noted that this information is also crucial for a better understanding of plant evolution and development. In addition, it will be helpful for plant breeders.

During the study, scientists were able to locate similar sets of shape-control genes in plants other than tomato. For instance in the potato — which is very closely related to the tomato — the gene that controls potato tuber shape as it 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 believed they act in the same manner, controlling the horizontal or vertical structure in cell division.

The study is published Nov. 10 in the journal Nature Communications.

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