After over 14 years of development of a nutritionally enhanced purple tomato, the genetically modified (GM) crop, has been recognized as 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. This authorization means the genetically modified plant is no longer regulated with strict controls limiting where and can be safely grown anywhere in the United States like any other allowable crop.
The tomato was developed by a team of scientists, including British biochemist Cathie Martin, who is a professor at the University of East Anglia and a project leader at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England.
The researchers led by Cathie Martin are particularly interested in phenolic compounds present in fruit and vegetables and also considered to be the main ‘active ingredients’ of many ‘super foods’ and ‘super drinks’. They generated purple tomatoes with very high levels of specific phenolic compounds combining the use of transcription factors, biosynthetic genes and RNAi with the availability of natural tomato mutants. Using purple, high-anthocyanin tomatoes they’ve shown that their inclusion in the diet of cancer-prone mice can extend life-span by 30%, resulting in worldwide recognition that anthocyanins are important health-promoting dietary constituents.
What do purple tomatoes offer?
• High in anthocyanins, similar levels to antioxidant superfoods like blueberries
• Reduced waste, thanks to longer shelf life
• Beautiful in special dishes, convenient snacks for on-the-go
They tested the purple tomatoes and compared them with red control fruit, using different in vivo and in vitro models for different human diseases to verify ‘super food’ claims, identify the most promising phenolic compounds and provide recommendations on the specific foods that can provide the best protection against a specific human disease.
In this way they can provide a scientific foundation for personalized nutrition. The lab can also use their system as a bio-factory for the production of valuable chemicals, food colourants, supplements or active compounds for medicines and cosmetics.