The study traced the evolution of a specific gene that produces a sticky compound in the tips of the trichomes, or hairs, on the Solanum pennellii plant found in the Atacama desert of Peru. The sticky hairs act as natural insect repellants to protect the plant and help ensure its survival and reproduction. The gene exists in the wild plant, but not in cultivated tomatoes as this defensive trait may have been removed by breeders previously.
The team used genetic and genomic approaches, including the CRISPR gene-editing technology, to the wild tomato plant to discover the functions of specific genes, metabolites and pathways. The team was able to identify an invertase-like enzyme specific to the cells at the tips of the sticky hairs. Invertases regulate many aspects of growth and development in plants. In the wild tomato, the enzyme evolved to facilitate the production of new insecticidal compounds.
For more details, read the article in MSU Today.