Researchers at Ohio State University have cloned a gene that controls the size of fruits and vegetables.

A group of researchers led by Esther van der Knaap, a geneticist in the university’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, discovered and cloned a gene that regulates fruit size in tomato plants, according to a university news release.

It’s only the second time such a gene involving fruit size has been cloned. The discovery was reported Sept. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This work represents an important improvement in the understanding of the regulation of fruit size and how domestication played a role in the selection of this gene,” van der Knaap said in the release.

The cloned gene, known as SlKLUH, affects fruit size by increasing cell layers and delaying ripening. The gene promotes extra cell divisions during fruit development, immediately after fertilization. The extra divisions lead to enlarged fruit, while the delay in ripening is likely the result of an extension of the cell division stage.

The cloning of SlKLUH is expected to increase scientists’ understanding of fruit development processes, not only in tomatoes but in other fruit and vegetable crops.

“Despite the importance of fruit mass in the evolution of fruit and vegetable plants, cloning of domestication genes of fruit and vegetable crops has lagged behind that of cereal crops,” van der Knaap said. “For that reason, insights into the molecular mechanisms that led to the transition of the fruit from small to large remain mostly unknown.”