You Say Potato, I Say Solanum Lycopersicon

What's in a name? Botanists are pondering whether 'tis nobler to change the genus name under which tomatoes are classified or to retain the accepted, but apparently artificial, distinction between tomatoes and potatoes. Sophisticated DNA analysis of the tomato genome convinced researcher Robert K. Jansen of the University of Texas and his colleagues that tomatoes have so much in common with the potato genus Solanum that they should fall under that designation rather than Lycopersicon, as they are now classified.

The similarities have long been known, but the scientists, writing in the American Journal of Botany, suggest that a name change for tomatoes to Solanum lycopersicon, which literally means "sleep-inducing wolf peach," will reflect reality--and may encourage genetic engineers to look more closely at potatoes. "Completely immaterial," scoffs Roger H. Salquist, chief executive of Calgene Inc., which is tweaking tomato genes to allow the fruit to ripen longer on the vine. Alas, a Lycopersicon by any other name will taste as sweet.

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