Commercial tomato accessions have been bred for specific traits that allow for ease of harvest and marketability, but many lack important nutrients and flavor compounds. The focus of this study is to identify variation in carotenoid metabolite accumulation and gene expression for different tomato accessions and to investigate correlations between the two phenotypes. Carotenoid extractions were performed for three S. lycopersicum var. cerasiforme accessions, which are cherry tomatoes, and five S. lycopersicum var. lycopersicum accessions, which include both heirloom and modern accessions. Gene expression data was already available for these accessions. RNA extractions were performed on additional accessions to obtain a larger set of gene expression data for future studies. Among the additional accessions are several wild species, which were also included in the carotenoid accumulation analysis. However, since gene expression data was not yet available, those accessions could not be included in the correlation analysis. Data analyses were performed in R to obtain correlation values as well as the carotenoid and gene expression data. The correlation analyses indicated wide variation not only between the species analyzed, but also between accessions within the same type of species, which was unexpected. Variation was further analyzed between different fruit stages of the same accession. Potential future application of these findings includes use in plant breeding for the improvement of commercial tomato accessions to have higher nutrient density and flavor.
I had many good experiences and gained valuable research skills this summer! I really liked my lab and my project wet my whistle for plant breeding. Because of my project, I gained a greater appreciation for the variation and complexity within the tomato species. I’m also interested in graduate studies at Cornell and appreciated the opportunity to learn more about SIPS while I was here. I felt the DGS event was informative and found it helpful to talk with faculty one-on-one. Looking back on it, I feel an important aspect that made this experience great was the people. I really appreciate my mentor and her willingness to teach me and take time to answer my questions. Her efforts, as well as that of others, had a profound impact that allowed me to benefit from this experience academically, professionally, and personally.