Soyk S, Lemmon ZH, Oved M, Fisher J, Liberatore KL, Park SJ, Goren A, Jiang K, Ramos A, van der Knaap E, Van Eck J, Zamir D, Eshed Y, Lippman ZB.
Selection for inflorescence architecture with improved flower production and yield is common to many domesticated crops. However, tomato inflorescences resemble wild ancestors, and breeders avoided excessive branching because of low fertility. We found branched variants carry mutations in two related transcription factors that were selected independently. One founder mutation enlarged the leaf-like organs on fruits and was selected as fruit size increased during domestication. The other mutation eliminated the flower abscission zone, providing "jointless" fruit stems that reduced fruit dropping and facilitated mechanical harvesting. Stacking both beneficial traits caused undesirable branching and sterility due to epistasis, which breeders overcame with suppressors. However, this suppression restricted the opportunity for productivity gains from weak branching. Exploiting natural and engineered alleles for multiple family members, we achieved a continuum of inflorescence complexity that allowed breeding of higher-yielding hybrids. Characterizing and neutralizing similar cases of negative epistasis could improve productivity in many agricultural organisms. VIDEO ABSTRACT.