In the grand scheme of life, we often perceive ourselves, humans, as the pinnacle of biological complexity. We pride ourselves on our intellectual prowess, complex societies, and advanced technology.
But what if I told you that the humble tomato fruit has more genes than humans? Yes, you read that right. Tomatoes, those juicy, red orbs that grace our salads and sauces, have more genes than humans.
Genetic Surprise: the Fruit That Has More Genes Than Humans
This surprising fact raises a question: why do tomatoes have such a complex genome?
The Dinosaur Connection
One emerging theory ties the tomato’s genetic complexity to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Around the time these giant creatures disappeared from Earth, the nightshade family, or Solanaceae, tripled its number of genes ³.
Over time, excessive copies of genes that served no biological purpose disappeared but left many functional ones.
Some scientists believe the extra DNA helped tomatoes survive during a perilous time on the planet when it was likely still recovering from the aftereffects of a devastating asteroid.
The Human Genome Project & Beyond
The number of genes doesn’t necessarily imply biological sophistication but rather how an organism “manages its cells’ affairs”. Simply put, humans make more efficient use of the genes they have.
The Human Genome Project ⁴, which launched in 1990 and took 13 years to complete, successfully mapped and sequenced every single gene found in Homo sapiens. It remains the most significant international collaboration ever undertaken in the field of biology.
The Poison Apple
The tomato’s journey to our dining tables wasn’t always smooth. In the 18th century, many believed European aristocrats were falling ill and dying after eating tomatoes ⁵.
This misconception stemmed from using pewter plates, which contained high lead content. Highly acidic tomatoes would leach that lead and poison the unlucky eater.
By the late 1800s, more people began to appreciate tomatoes for the nutritious treat they are.
Remember Appreciation For the Genetic Marvels
The tomato’s genetic complexity reminds us that nature’s wonders are not always where we expect them.
As we continue to unravel the mysteries of our own genome, let’s remember to appreciate the genetic marvels that lie in the humblest of fruits on our kitchen counters.
Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.