Tailoring Genes to Taste

Contact Author Cathianne Leonardi
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Touching on the history of hybridization and the possibilities for the future of flavor creation.


The 1860s is where the understanding of botanical differentiation is firmly rooted. The work of Mendel’s laws of inheritance paired with Darwin’s theory of evolution provided valuable insight that successfully propagated many fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes we enjoy today.

During the 20th century, the application of Mendel’s laws improved biomass, pest resistance and environmental adaptability, practically providing more food to be grown on less land. An offspring that physiologically outperformed its parents was assured its survival and awarded the title of achieving “hybrid vigor.” A classic example is Shull’s corn, named for George Harrison Shull, whose pioneering research maximized rows of corn kernels per ear of corn. His work resulted in a 20-50% crop yield increase in hybridized corn versus inbred corn, which helped feed the world post-WWII.

Shull’s success showed the world how applying Darwinian selection to Mendelian genetics held powerful consequences for nourishment. For this achievement, he was awarded the Public Welfare Medal by the National Academy of Science in 1948. Open sharing of information was propelled through the founding of a scientific journal, Genetics, which allowed for additional advances in the field.

Today, it is understood that harnessing genetics resulting in hybrid vigor also affects metabolic pathways responsible for propagating unique tastes in the plant kingdom. It is here that the work of flavorists and geneticists meet.

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