Abscission is the mechanism by which plants disconnect unfertilized flowers, ripe fruits, senescent or diseased organs from the plant. In tomato, pedicel abscission is an important agronomic factor that controls yield and post-harvest fruit quality. Two non-allelic mutations, jointless (j) and jointless-2 (j-2), controlling pedicel abscission zone formation have been documented but only j-2 has been extensively used in breeding. J was shown to encode a MADS-box protein. Using a combination of physical mapping and gene expression analysis we identified a positional candidate, Solyc12g038510, associated with j-2 phenotype. Targeted knockout of Solyc12g038510, using CRISPR/Cas9 system, validated our hypothesis. Solyc12g038510 encodes the MADS-box protein SlMBP21. Molecular analysis of j-2 natural variation revealed two independent loss-of-function mutants. The first results of an insertion of a Rider retrotransposable element. The second results of a stop codon mutation that leads to a truncated protein form. To bring new insights into the role of J and J-2 in abscission zone formation, we phenotyped the single and the double mutants and the engineered alleles. We showed that J is epistatic to J-2 and that the branched inflorescences and the leafy sepals observed in accessions harboring j-2 alleles are likely the consequences of linkage drags.
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