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BARD launched B-Lever the academia-to-industry program, in December 2018. The first round of proposals were submitted to the Israel Innovation Authority in June 2019. We are proud to see the first project funded through this program.

The ever-growing demand of consumers for improved quality of the fresh market tomato has led researchers to team-up to improve fruit taste by exploring new genetic resources. The labs of Dr. Arthur Schaffer from Agricultural research center (ARO) Israel, and Prof. Alan Bennet, of UC Davis, (US), have been working on this problem in the framework of several BARD projects.

Modern tomatoes are bred for size, firmness, long shelf-life and resistance to disease. In the process, they lost some of their flavor. This B-Lever project teams together researchers and a leading breeding company BreedX breeding taste back into tomatoes. Taste is determined by three major components: sugars, organic acids and aromatic volatile compounds.

The researchers studied wild tomatoes which are themselves inedible, but include genes of pigment and aroma that can enhance the taste of a tomato. By studying the genetic variability among these wild tomatoes, the researchers have found germplasm that controls the taste, appearance and nutritional components of tomatoes. By using this genetic resources they were able to manipulate both fruit pigmentation and aromatic volatiles in domestic tomatoes, impacting their taste, appearance and nutritional composition.

Interestingly, they found that the color patterns of tomatoes affect not only the attractiveness of the fruit but also its nutritional composition. These include desirable carotenoids, such as lycopene and beta-carotene. The researchers have identified novel genetic variability for these increased carotenoid levels in the ripe fruit well. This is in addition to the control of attractive striping patterns on the fruit surface. Given what they have learned, the researchers aim to develop these genetic resources and utilize them in a science-based and molecular-supported strategy to breed new, market-valuable, tomato cultivars.

Yoram Kapulnik, BARD Executive Director:" We have found that it can take an average of 16 years to commercialize research project outcomes. In order to ease, enhance and speed-up this process, we have teamed-up with the Israel Innovation Authority and USDA NIFA to create the B-Lever program and leverage BARD-funded research. Our aim is to help BARD-funded researchers and give them the assistance they need to go to market. I look forward to next year and hope to see more BARD research projects take the root of translational science and team up with commercial companies in order to commercialize their research".