Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The diversity of morphologies available at the farmers market is impressive. Fruits and vegetables come in infinite shapes and sizes. But how?
Scientists at the University of Georgia have discovered a new genetic mechanism that controls the shape of fruits and vegetables.
Researchers at Georgia previously isolated novel genetic pathways responsible for tomato shapes. Now, the same scientists think all fruits and vegetables use a similar mechanism -- a novel group of genetic sequences.
"We found that in tomatoes, plant cells in the fruit divide in a column or in a row and that will determine their shape," Esther van der Knaap, a professor of horticulture at Georgia, said in a news release. "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."
The new research -- published in the journal Nature Communications -- could prove useful for farmers and plant breeders keen on developing perfectly sculpted eggplants or inventing new pepper varieties.
The newly discovered genetic mechanism could also help botanists and biologists better understand the evolution and speciation of wild fruits and vegetables, as well as the ancient development of cultivated varieties.
In the original tomato study, researchers isolated genetic sequences that controlled cell division or cell size, which help control fruit shape and size. In the latest study, scientists located similar sequences in other fruits and vegetables.
The research showed some genetic pathways exert greater control over cell division and cell size later in the fruit development process, closer to ripening, while other pathways dictate growth earlier, just before flowering.
Scientists found the genetic pathways used by tomatoes and potatoes are most similar in their timing and effects. The plants' shape-controlling sequences are found in the same location in the genome. The similarities aren't surprising, as potatoes and tomatoes are both closely related members of the Solanaceae family.
In future studies, scientists hope to explore the possibility that similar genetic pathways control organ growth in all plant species.