Nutritionally-enhanced purple tomato available in 2023

September 14, 2022
Nutritionally-enhanced purple tomato available in 2023

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided to let home growers purchase and plant seeds of the anthocyanin-rich purple tomato, a variety that has been genetically enhanced to increase its nutritional value. These purple tomatoes were developed by plant biologists and food scientists at Norfolk Plant Sciences, who realised certain types of tomato with naturally purple skins contained less-than-desired amounts of nutrients.

The scientists wanted to amplify the plant’s ability to produce anthocyanins with a few genetic tweaks – they added two genes from another plant to a type of purple tomato, forming a new, nutrient-dense version.

Anthocyanins are antioxidants 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.

In an experiment, mice fed a diet supplemented with the genetically-modified 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; and the first example of a GMO [genetically-modified organism] with a trait that really offers a potential benefit for all consumers,” said Cathie Martin, a plant biologist and co-founder of Norfolk Plant Sciences.

Following approval by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the genetically-modified purple tomato is now one step closer to consumers and can be safely grown anywhere in the US, like any other allowable crop.

“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.”

At the same time, the scientists are also experimenting on other uses of the genetically-modified purple tomato, such as by producing an anthocyanin-rich tomato juice that could be tested in clinical contexts for patients with cancer or cardiovascular disease.

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