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The Dino-Tomato connection
June 14, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Why are tomatoes red? The answer will amaze you...
posted by Renoroc (76 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
red ? I thought the new hipster-gardener trend was into purple and yellow heirlooms. Red is so pase.
posted by k5.user at 10:25 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, I thought the Engineers from "Prometheus" had a hand in that. Space Jesus and all...
posted by fijiwriter at 10:29 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hipster tomato was red before Barney ever heard of a meteor.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:30 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not only was the asteroid responsible for the supremacy of mammals and the evolution of humanity, but also ketchup. Thanks asteroid.

Thasteroid
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:33 AM on June 14, 2012 [26 favorites]


Pretty sure ketchup is red for completely unrelated reasons, EMRJKC
posted by Hoopo at 10:36 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lycopene.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:37 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, if I read that right, it's the blood of the dinosaurs.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:38 AM on June 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


No, not lycopene - it's red from the blood of all the martyred dinosaurs!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on June 14, 2012 [13 favorites]


Tomatoes are the product of extraterrestrial meddling?!?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:38 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think the article answered the question.
posted by empath at 10:39 AM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ataaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack of the killer tomaaaaatooooooooes....
posted by jph at 10:39 AM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Still waiting to be amazed. Also still waiting to find out why tomatoes are red.
posted by NathanBoy at 10:41 AM on June 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


So if indeed the answer to "What's red and invisible?" is "No tomatoes", it can be conclusively proven that dinosaurs (like Imhotep) are invisible.
posted by scruss at 10:41 AM on June 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


This publication gives new insight which makes growing a salt-tolerant or an even more delicious tomato possible. But to do this, breeding companies would have to carry out additional research.

Call me crazy, but eating home or locally grown tomatoes, instead of those tomato-like objects from the megamarts, seems to have solved the "even more delicious tomato" problem. They also appear to tolerate salt when using the ancient "sprinkling" technique.

I realize this is a communist conspiracy of some kind, so I will try to get prepared for the Corporate Welfare Thoughtcrime Committee paramilitaries on their way to my current location.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:42 AM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


scruss... I need you to tell me where you heard that joke. Because I have good reason to believe that it originates with an old friend of mine.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:42 AM on June 14, 2012


No, not lycopene - it's red from the blood of all the martyred dinosaurs!

And tomatoes are transported around the globe in machines powered by oil, which is mostly liquified dinosaur souls!
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:44 AM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Navelgazer: Glasgow, mid-1990s.
posted by scruss at 10:44 AM on June 14, 2012


Hmmm... Well, at least I no longer have that troublesome faith in my friends...
posted by Navelgazer at 10:46 AM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


"We suspect that the meteorite crash and the resulting solar eclipse had created conditions difficult for plants to survive."
This seriously diminishes my trust in this article as a source of fact.
posted by Plutor at 10:47 AM on June 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


red ? I thought the new hipster-gardener trend was into purple and yellow heirlooms. Red is so pase.


FFS. Anyone saying "Hipster" without understanding what they're talking about should be kneecapped.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:53 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone saying "hipster" at all, actually.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:53 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


And to this day, deep within the human psyche, there still lingers a memory of that terrible meteorite crash. This is why, when you see a bad stage performance, you throw a tomato.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:55 AM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


That article doesn't explain why tomatoes are red.
posted by notyou at 10:56 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Something something hipster Prometheus something something favorites grab.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:57 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm amazed!
posted by slogger at 10:57 AM on June 14, 2012


This publication gives new insight which makes growing a salt-tolerant or an even more delicious tomato possible. But to do this, breeding companies would have to carry out additional research.

Yeah, like that's going to happen. A more delicious tomato? We have research labs working around the clock to make a cubical tomato with a thick skin that can be packed more efficiently into a semi-truck. Flavor doesn't matter.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:01 AM on June 14, 2012


"In this way, the tomato differentiates itself from a family member, the potato, which has no edible fruits."

Hang on.

So, we can theoretically breed the tomato to their cousin, the potato, and get a plant you can eat from stem to stern, so to speak, the, um, topato. Maybe the pomato.

I can't wait.
posted by mule98J at 11:01 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I got all excited about iridium-bearing pigments; left disappointed.
posted by BrashTech at 11:01 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure they're red because they selectively reflect electromagnetic waves in the range 630 nm to 740 nm.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:02 AM on June 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


a plant you can eat from stem to stern, so to speak, the, um, topato. Maybe the pomato.

You say topato, I say pomato...
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:03 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


"We suspect that the meteorite crash and the resulting solar eclipse had created conditions difficult for plants to survive."

This seriously diminishes my trust in this article as a source of fact.


Is it stupid if I ask why? Is it because a Solar Eclipse is only for the astronomical event, or am I missing something?
posted by Think_Long at 11:04 AM on June 14, 2012


we can theoretically breed the tomato to their cousin, the potato, and get a plant you can eat from stem to stern

Potato/tomato chimera grafting
posted by rh at 11:06 AM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Roses are red, too.
Two and two are four
Four and eight are twelve
There are twelve inches to a ruler.
Queen Elizabeth was a ruler.
Queen Elizabeth was a ship.
Ships sail the sea.
Fish swim in the sea.
Fish have fins.
The Finns fought the Russians,
The Russians are red.

Fire Engines are always Rushin' (get it? Russian, russian? I KILL ME!)...

Oh. That's the answer to "why are fire engines red?" (from the shitty pun book I read when I was 6 and why I still remember that 30 years later, I have no clue)...
posted by symbioid at 11:11 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


a plant you can eat from stem to stern, so to speak, the, um, topato. Maybe the pomato

Pre-ketchup-ed French Fries?
posted by achrise at 11:15 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


"...A distant ancestor of the tomato plant then reacted by expanding its genome considerably in order to increase its chances of survival."

I understand that this is presumably not meant literally, but it's really crucial in discussing evolution to not impute intentionality or the capacity to foresee events to the process. It's extremely lazy phrasing that reflects lazy thinking. This kind of fundamental conceptual illiteracy is a huge social issue, too, because when laypeople (especially uneducated and young laypersons) hear this metaphor used unselfconsciously over and over, they could very easily get the impression that even scientists might think that this is how evolution works.
posted by clockzero at 11:18 AM on June 14, 2012 [13 favorites]


What's black and white and red all over?

A lot of people try to answer that question by referencing the solar eclipse that resulted from a meteorite crash 60 or 70 million years ago, which created dark skies and other conditions which made it difficult for plants to survive. These people point out that as the skies became lighter again, the genome expansion developed by the tomato led to a change in coloration.

The actual answer though, is "a newspaper."
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:22 AM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also still waiting to find out why tomatoes are red.
That article doesn't explain why tomatoes are red.

My thought too.

I think the specific question we want answered is "Why aren't common domesticated tomatoes purple?" and the question this study answers is "What changed the tomato genome to bring about common domesticated tomatoes that are red?"

Both questions technically probe into "why tomatoes are red" – but are resolving very different aspects of the issue.

Here's the actual study, which is definitely for someone much smarter about this stuff than me.
posted by pokermonk at 11:22 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I's to change this life I lead,
I'd be Johnny Tomato Seed,
`Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see.
posted by dios at 11:23 AM on June 14, 2012


              ._      _.
              /  `""""`  \
         .-""`'-..____..-'`""-.
       /`\                    /`\
     /`   |                  |   `\
    /`    |     A  Meteor    |    `\
   /      |                  |      \
  /       /     Wiped Out    \       \
 /        |                  |        \
 '-._____.|     All the      |._____.-'
          |                  |
          |  Dinosaurs on    |
          |                  |
          \  Earth and All   |
          /                  |
          | I Got Was These  \
          |                  |
          |  Lousy Tomatoes  |
          |                  |
          '._              _.'
             `""--------""` 

posted by mazola at 11:24 AM on June 14, 2012 [22 favorites]


So, phys.org writes to the sixth grade level, eh?
posted by Ardiril at 11:26 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, we can theoretically breed the tomato to their cousin, the potato, and get a plant you can eat from stem to stern, so to speak, the, um, topato. Maybe the pomato.

Topato?

And I thought ketchup was red from the natural mellowing agents
posted by pupdog at 11:27 AM on June 14, 2012


When conditions subsequently improved again, this ancestor of the tomato got rid of a lot of genetic ballast, but the genetic base for fruit formation had already been developed by then, the tomato fruit acquired its red colour and certain genes which produced toxins disappeared, says Klein Lankhorst. In this way, the tomato differentiates itself from a family member, the potato, which has no edible fruits.

I think this passage points to the real reason tomatoes turned red.

Birds see red about as well as we do and prefer not to be poisoned.

The original tomatoes were about the size of gooseberries, I've read, making them ideal for seed dispersal by birds.

There might be an argument to be made about the dominance of birds after Chicxulub, but I'm not sure.
posted by jamjam at 11:31 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because they're bloody.
posted by dr_dank at 11:32 AM on June 14, 2012


I saw "meteorite" and "genome" and started hoping for alien DNA. I was disappointed by the lack of said alien interference.
posted by asnider at 11:40 AM on June 14, 2012


Weren't the original tomatoes yellow, as k5.user (sort of) alludes to? Hence their being called "pomodoro" in Italian.
posted by kenko at 11:42 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Think_Long: "Is it stupid if I ask why? Is it because a Solar Eclipse is only for the astronomical event, or am I missing something?"

Nope, that's exactly it. An eclipse is a very specific event. The word can sometimes be used metaphorically (see: "Total Eclipse Of The Heart"). But using it metaphorically in reference to the sun or the moon is clumsy at best. And it makes me wonder if the science (or the reporting of the science) is clumsy, too.
posted by Plutor at 11:44 AM on June 14, 2012


I saw "meteorite" and "genome" and started hoping for alien DNA. I was disappointed by the lack of said alien interference.

You think that meteorite got here by chance and gravity? The aliens that sent it were willing to wait for eons before their arrival so we would have evolved condiments. Condiments for the feasting, the awful feasting!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:02 PM on June 14, 2012


I thought that the answer was Tomatoes are artificially ripened with ethylene. But I think I will go with "dino blood" from now on.
posted by Phredward at 12:05 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Think_Long: "Is it stupid if I ask why? Is it because a Solar Eclipse is only for the astronomical event, or am I missing something?"

Plutor: Nope, that's exactly it. An eclipse is a very specific event. The word can sometimes be used metaphorically (see: "Total Eclipse Of The Heart"). But using it metaphorically in reference to the sun or the moon is clumsy at best. And it makes me wonder if the science (or the reporting of the science) is clumsy, too.


Yep, impact winter is the term they're looking for.
posted by BrashTech at 12:11 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Weren't the original tomatoes yellow, as k5.user (sort of) alludes to? Hence their being called "pomodoro" in Italian.

Actually, the naming itself anticipates the discord its etymology would one day provoke on the internet. Little-known fact.
posted by clockzero at 12:11 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


You think that meteorite got here by chance and gravity? The aliens that sent it were willing to wait for eons before their arrival so we would have evolved condiments. Condiments for the feasting, the awful feasting!

Is it possible that aliens may have influenced our distant plants? Some ancient alien theorist believe this to be so.
posted by khaibit at 12:17 PM on June 14, 2012


It's extremely lazy phrasing that reflects lazy thinking.

That was my reaction as well.

A distant ancestor of the tomato plant then reacted by expanding its genome considerably

The genome of a distant ancestor of the modern tomato plant evolved considerably

in order to increase its chances of survival

as those plants lacking the mutations necessary for survival died.
posted by tempestuoso at 12:17 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My reading is that tomatoes were not originally big or red, but the meteor caused lots of variation to the genome due to the difficult environment, one of those variations was color red, and when the environment improved again the tomato still had the color red in its genome (the ones that survived) and so that's why it's red. The reason is just that, random variation got stuck in the genome. There may be some evolutionary benefit to being red but that's not mentioned in the article or technically even needed. Sometimes things just happen by randomness.
posted by stbalbach at 12:19 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's what the article says, stbalbach, and it's more or less the same a waving one's hands and saying, "There, presto! Red."

The answer is "lycopene" which is a kind of carotene, both of which are chemicals involved in photo-synthesis and perhaps tomatoes (along with carrots and whatever else have lots of carotene in them) gained the use of this particular photo-sysnthesis related chemical in response to poor sunlight conditions prevailing following the meteor strike.

Perhaps. The article doesn't say, 'cause it just handwaves and says "Meteor strike! Genome triple the size! Red!"

It also doesn't explain how the tomato's genome could "triple in size". How does a genome grow? How does it triple? Oh, I know: Meteor strike!
posted by notyou at 12:42 PM on June 14, 2012


mule98J: "So, we can theoretically breed the tomato to their cousin, the potato, and get a plant you can eat from stem to stern, so to speak, the, um, topato. Maybe the pomato."

Topato is made of poison, FYI.
posted by notsnot at 1:05 PM on June 14, 2012


It also doesn't explain how the tomato's genome could "triple in size". How does a genome grow? How does it triple?

Here is how. If you get an error during chromosome segregation it's actually pretty easy to double the number of chromosomes exactly. There are a ton of examples of species that have almost certainly undergone whole-genome duplications (e.g., e.g.). Essentially you compare the genome sequence to a close relative and look for chunks of duplicated genes in the same genomic order (shared synteny).
posted by en forme de poire at 1:21 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Tomatoes are red because Mother Nature was making a green salad and it looked pretty dull so she waved her wand and made tomatoes red fora charming contrast.
posted by Cranberry at 1:29 PM on June 14, 2012


We suspect that the meteorite crash and the resulting solar eclipse had created conditions difficult for plants to survive. A distant ancestor of the tomato plant then reacted by expanding its genome considerably in order to increase its chances of survival.

I wish I could do something like that. I mean, what with life being so stressful and all.

But seriously, this was apparently a quote from "René Klein Lankhorst, the Wageningen UR coordinator of the tomato genome research project" and not something inferred by the publication. So, I decided to stop right there and not read further.
posted by vidur at 1:43 PM on June 14, 2012


Why are tomatoes red? The answer will amaze you...

When conditions subsequently improved again, this ancestor of the tomato got rid of a lot of genetic ballast, but the genetic base for fruit formation had already been developed by then, the tomato fruit acquired its red colour and certain genes which produced toxins disappeared, says Klein Lankhorst

OK, I get it. Tomatoes are red because they acquired their red color. AMAZED.
posted by dgaicun at 1:58 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Scientists have now discovered footage of the asteroid knocking on a window, shouting, "Do you like tomatoes? I'm exterminating huge swathes of life on your planet! How do you like THOSE tomatoes?"
posted by Greg Nog at 2:31 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, we can theoretically breed the tomato to their cousin, the potato, and get a plant you can eat from stem to stern, so to speak, the, um, topato. Maybe the pomato.

Here you go.

posted by Wordwoman at 2:53 PM on June 14, 2012


it's more or less the same a waving one's hands and saying, "There, presto! Red."

Well, that's what they are saying. You're looking for a logical answer for why it's red. They are saying it happened randomly due to large number of variations that occurred at the time. Randomness doesn't need a logical explanation. It's very possible it's just bad science journalism, would have to see the original source to know what the authors were saying. So, there are two mysteries. (and I'm sure you meant: "There, Prego! Red")
posted by stbalbach at 2:54 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think trading dinosaurs for tomatoes was a good deal.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:59 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a term for the mistaken active-mode narration that so drives me up the wall when it's used to describe evolutionary selection?

"A distant ancestor of the tomato plant then reacted by expanding its genome considerably in order to increase its chances of survival"

"this ancestor of the tomato got rid of a lot of genetic ballast, but the genetic base for fruit formation had already been developed by then, the tomato fruit acquired its red colour and certain genes which produced toxins disappeared"

It's rampant amongst layman writers - but it's especially maddening when it creeps into scientific articles - which this, granted, perhaps isn't.
posted by progosk at 3:10 PM on June 14, 2012


After preview (so to speak), what clockzero said.
posted by progosk at 3:16 PM on June 14, 2012


Here is how. If you get an error during chromosome segregation it's actually pretty easy to double the number of chromosomes exactly.


Chromosome segregation error? Sorry, but according to Albert Sikkema, who presumably read the paper, the tomato expanded "its genome considerably in order to increase its chances of survival".

The tomato tripled its genome in order to survive, dummy. Then, some scientists say, it turned red by acquiring a red color. Other scientists, however, warn that that theory is still controversial.
posted by dgaicun at 3:20 PM on June 14, 2012


Yup - inaccurate, teleology-invoking science writing is inaccurate and invokes teleology.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:11 PM on June 14, 2012


This is really bad science reporting, absurd speculation, and irritating media-whoring. The evidence is: "the rise of redness genes is coincident with the meteor." That's the finding. That's what you report and that's what got published. The speculation that it was an adaptive change following the changing environment is a hypothesis that belongs late in the discussion to potentially be tested at a later date. Grr...
posted by Buckt at 4:18 PM on June 14, 2012


I honestly think we should ban phys.org links. They are almost without exception badly written blog spam.
posted by empath at 4:23 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here you go.
posted by Wordwoman

i don't always order pomatos from the world wide web, but when i do, i order them from a website created in 1998
posted by camdan at 6:28 PM on June 14, 2012


This seriously diminishes my trust in this article as a source of fact.

I honestly think we should ban phys.org links. They are almost without exception badly written blog spam.


On the other hand, there isn't any ranting about GLO-BULL Warming in the comments section yet.
posted by sneebler at 7:12 PM on June 14, 2012


Tometeors.
posted by Kabanos at 7:35 PM on June 14, 2012


I'm going to write and illustrate a comic book featuring a meek Finnish banker named Tom Äitto, and whenever he finds himself in a situation where his life is in danger (which, of course, will happen in every issue) his genome triples in size and he turns red. The first issue will feature a meteor strike, which holds the secrets behind his super abilities.
posted by dgaicun at 8:56 PM on June 14, 2012


"...A distant ancestor of the tomato plant then reacted by expanding its genome considerably in order to increase its chances of survival."

I understand that this is presumably not meant literally...


Sure it is, we just had a smarter tomarter back then. Reconstructing their own genome was nothing to the Solanaceae - nothing, I tell ya! The world you kids live in today with its squeezy ketchup, you only got that because we all died in the war, but you don't see a hero; no, you just see an old man who gets spooked by tins in a supermarket.
posted by Segundus at 1:24 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


FFS. Anyone saying "Hipster" without understanding what they're talking about should be kneecapped.

By you and whose organic cigar-box ukulele, hipster?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:44 AM on June 15, 2012


The article doesn't say, 'cause it just handwaves and says "Meteor strike! Genome triple the size! Red!"

When I hear things like this on cable TV, it's usually preceded by the phrase "According to ancient astronaut theorists...."
posted by gimonca at 4:59 AM on June 15, 2012


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