Health & Wellbeing

Genetically modified purple tomato approved by US regulators

Genetically modified purple tomato approved by US regulators
The tomato has been gene-edited to produce high levels of a purple antioxidant known to be beneficial to human health
The tomato has been gene-edited to produce high levels of a purple antioxidant known to be beneficial to human health
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The tomato has been gene-edited to produce high levels of a purple antioxidant known to be beneficial to human health
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The tomato has been gene-edited to produce high levels of a purple antioxidant known to be beneficial to human health

After more than a decade of development a nutritionally enhanced purple tomato has been deemed safe to grow by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The tomatoes have been gene edited to produce 10 times more antioxidants than pre-existing varieties.

Back in 2008 a fascinating study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The research reported on a type of tomato that had been gene edited to produce high volumes of antioxidants called anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins are naturally found in plenty of foods, such as blueberries and red cabbage. They are responsible for the purple pigment in those foods and have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Some types of tomato with naturally purple skins do contain low levels of anthocyanins but some food scientists wondered if those levels could be increased with a few genetic tweaks. Two genes were taken from another plant (the snapdragon) and added to a type of purple tomato. The genes amplified the plant's ability to produce anthocyanins, resulting in a unique tomato with richly purple-colored flesh.

The 2008 study reported testing the health effects of this anthocyanin-boosted tomato on mice engineered to develop cancer. The mice fed a diet supplemented with the purple tomatoes were found to live 30% longer than mice fed a regular diet.

"This is one of the first examples of metabolic engineering that offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease," said plant biologist Cathie Martin in 2008. "And certainly the first example of a GMO [genetically modified organism] with a trait that really offers a potential benefit for all consumers.”

After a long time spent navigating regulatory processes, the genetically modified purple tomato is now one step closer to the market following a tick of approval by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). This authorization means the genetically modified plant is no longer regulated with strict controls limiting where and how it can be grown. It can be safely grown anywhere in the United States like any other allowable crop.

“When Cathie and I founded NPS [Norwich Plant Sciences] nearly 15 years ago to bring to market health-promoting, genetically enhanced purple tomatoes, invented in the UK, we never thought it would take so long to obtain regulatory approval,” said Jonathan Jones, who has been working with Martin on commercializing the plant for more than a decade. “This is a red-letter day for crop improvement, with approval of a beneficial product by USDA, after careful scrutiny of a detailed information dossier that describes its properties.”

Over the last few years a number of uses for the enhanced tomato have been explored. The scientists initially have been focusing on producing an anthocyanin-rich tomato juice that could be tested in clinical contexts for patients with cancer or cardiovascular disease.

However, that kind of product still faces plenty more testing and regulatory hurdles before reaching the market. So the first step for Martin and Jones will be selling the seeds for these purple tomatoes to home growers.

The US approval marks the first place in the world to allow the genetically modified product to be grown. Martin and Jones hope the tomatoes will be approved in the United Kingdom soon.

“We are now one step closer to my dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with the many people excited to eat them,” Martin said. “The bittersweet thing is that the tomatoes will be on sale in America and not the UK as well. But the plus side is that by focusing on home growers we will be consumer oriented, and we will be able to get feedback and interest needed to develop other products.”

Sources: USDA, John Innes Centre

9 comments
9 comments
CAVUMark
Hmmmm, maybe if people ate good food to begin with we wouldn't need to modify it. Eat colorful food, not out of a tin, and only with ingredients that you can pronounce, and with three syllabus or less. Try doing that. And I look forward to seeing what the salsa will look like.
Smokey_Bear
As a Vikings fan, I approve. Now they need to work on the top, yellow is a much better color. :)
ChairmanLMAO
Would definitely use Prince to market this tomahtoe of the tomatoe purplei variety.
verdico
Besides the backlash this will get in today's anti-science age the only aspect I find concerning here is IP law. It becomes a very slippery slope when companies start to "own" the genetic code of food.
JGTinNJ
The biggest problems with tomatoes in North America is the taste and the toughness. The commercial ones taste terrible compared to one you grow in your back yard (if you choose the right tomato) and they are bred to rival golf and tennis balls so they survive shipment. Rats don't care so much about taste and nor the effort it takes to bite into a tomato, so they can focus on living longer.
CDE
I did not see much info on the taste. What does this taste like? How is the texture? How well does this ship? If it does not taste good, it may not be a popular replacement for the heirloom tomatoes that do taste good.
c w
So, is the goal to get the benefits of red cabbage and blueberries too place that don't naturally support their growth? Does this reduce the need to transport food?

If not... Why not just eat blueberries or red cabbage... Or another food with the desired antioxidants?
bwklast1
Where can I get the seeds?
Luann Stubbs
There is no need for a purple tomato, especially one that is a GMO. You can get anthocyanins from blueberries and red cabbage, both are great tasting and not GMOs. Also, buyer beware - one point to check out before you grow these new tomatos - do they produce fertile seeds, or do you have to buy new seeds every year?