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Two new species of tomato discovered

10 October 2005

Scientists have discovered 2 new species of wild tomatoes from Peru.

New species of tomato Solanum arcanum Peralta © Blanca Leon

New species of tomato Solanum arcanum Peralta © Blanca Leon

They were discovered by Dr Sandy Knapp, botanist at the Natural History Museum, and colleagues Iris Peralta from Argentina and David Spooner from the USA.

The team had been studying all known species of tomato, and by re-examining thousands of specimens, they discovered that 2, previously thought to be unusual populations, were in fact new species.

The two new species, Solanum arcanum Peralta and Solanum huaylasense Peralta, are from the western slopes of the Andes in Peru, an area with huge amounts of tomato diversity.

The team's work will go towards producing a taxonomic monograph of the tomato group - a publication that re-examines the different species in a way that includes descriptions, identification keys, illustrations, history and much more.

New species of tomato Solanum huaylasense Peralta © Blanca Leon

New species of tomato Solanum huaylasense Peralta © Blanca Leon

'It is amazing to think there are still new species to be described among the close relatives of some of our most common food plants,' said Dr Knapp.

The commercial tomato,Solanum lycopersicum L. is a very important food worldwide and on average we each eat 12kg a year. In Egypt the average per capita consumption is a whopping 100kg per year.

Dr Knapp explains, 'We think our new definitions of species in the tomatoes will help breeders identify interesting traits for use in improving an important crop'.

Natural habitat of the tomato

Tomatoes and their relatives are natives of South America. The wild species grow in the deserts of the western coast of the continent, some of the driest places on Earth.

Threats to survival

Most wild tomatoes are endemic (occur only) in narrow geographical ranges and also have very small populations making them vulnerable to extinction.

This is coupled with extreme changes happening in their desert habitat, such as increasing El Nino events (disruptions of the tropical Pacific ocean-atmospheric system that have important consequences for worldwide climate) and rapid glacial retreat due to global warming.

Dr Knapp adds, 'This means it is now more important than ever for taxonomists to discover, define and document species diversity in biodiverse regions, even for crop relatives that we thought were well understood'.

The publication of the new tomato species appeared in the June 2005 issue of the journal Systematic Botany