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Virginia Bioinformatics Institute to develop Tomato Metabolite Database


A researcher at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech is developing a database and computational tools to help scientists learn more about how certain genes in tomatoes affect the crop’s flavor and nutritional value.

The Tomato Metabolite Database, which is being implemented by Zhangjun Fei, a senior bioinformatics scientist in VBI’s Cyberinfrastructure Group, will be used to store a wide range of information and data about tomato, including microarray and metabolite profiling data as well as information on metabolic pathways. This resource will be used to identify key genes involved in the synthesis of essential metabolites that impact tomato flavor and the quality of its nutrients.

Fei’s work is part of a collaboration with Harry Klee, professor of horticultural science at the University of Florida and principal investigator for the project, and Jim Giovannoni, adjunct professor of plant biology at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University and research molecular biologist at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service’s Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory. The work is funded by a $2-million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Research groups led by Klee and Giovannoni will use the information provided by the Tomato Metabolite Database to characterize the functions of those genes identified as being responsible for genetic variation in tomato using state-of-the-art RNA interference (RNAi) technology. RNAi technology allows scientists to silence or turn down the specific function of a gene within a cell and represents a powerful approach to accurately establish gene function on a large scale.

"The development of this database will allow researchers the world over to develop and test hypotheses regarding the regulation of flavor, nutrition and quality metabolites in edible crop tissues," said Klee.

By identifying the highly complex traits that control the flavor and nutritional value of the tomato, this work will not only help to improve the way tomatoes are grown but will also contribute to how this crop is being used and developed in other biotechnology research programs. Researchers will also be able to directly apply the findings from this project to other important crops.

Susan Bland | EurekAlert!
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