UF researchers perfecting non-GMO tomatoes

- Students at the University of Florida may bleed orange and blue, but in his area on the Gainesville campus, Professor Harry Klee sees red.

With his research, he hopes to improve tomatoes for consumers.

"It's been a project that's been ongoing now for well over a decade. We have worked to understand what is flavor. Just the fundamentals of what's in the tomato fruit that makes you like that tomato," said Klee.

Part of his effort involves making the tomato sweeter. It's taken a village to come up with the right kind of product.

"We've integrated everything from a psychologist to a food scientist to biochemistry to genetics," said Klee.

He says his tomatoes are the result of natural breeding and not genetic modification.

"As they flower, we collect pollen from one plant, transfer it to another plant and develop the next generation," said Klee.

Klee also wants to make his new breed of tomatoes affordable.

"The hope is that we can make the supermarket tomato have really good flavor and we can hopefully drive people to like the tomato more. You can get decent flavored tomatoes today, but they cost a lot more," said Klee.

But there is a lot to consider.

"We have to do it within the context of the commercial growers. We have to be able to enhance the flavor without compromising all of the progress that the breeders have made," said Klee.

He said he's had some rave reviews.

"We've made marinara with some of our new tomatoes and it's just fabulous. In fact, we even did a consumer panel here at the food science department and the fresh product made from our tomato just blew away all of the commercial varieties that we bought and some of these varieties that we bought were $9, $10 a jar and our stuff just blew them away," said Klee.

He's hoping to get his product on the tables of consumers sooner rather than later.

"Hopefully this is going to be your next generation better tasting tomato in another year," said Klee.

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