Science

Genetically modified purple tomatoes approved by US authorities

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Purple tomatoes for cancer? Why not, answers a group of scientists from the UK. The latter have developed tomato varieties enriched with antioxidants that they believe may reduce the impact of some chronic diseases. They have just received their first seal of approval in the United States.

Early successes in this area are not new. “When Cathy and I founded NPS (Norfolk Plant Sciences) almost 15 years ago to bring to market genetically improved, healthy purple tomatoes invented in the UK, we never thought it would take so long to get regulatory approval. organs.” says Professor Jonathan Jones of the Sainsbury Laboratory.

Therefore, in 2008, the first study on this topic appeared, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. “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,” biologist Cathy Martin said at the time. “And, of course, the first example of a GMO [organisme génétiquement modifié] with a trait that truly offers a potential benefit to all consumers.”

Scientists-modified tomatoes contain ten times more antioxidants than conventional varieties. This explains their purple color. Indeed, it comes from an antioxidant called anthocyanin. It can be found in blueberries or red cabbage, to which it gives a special color.

However, this antioxidant is known to have a positive effect on health, especially in reducing the risk of diabetes or heart disease. It is for this reason that it has attracted the attention of scientists. Purple tomatoes already existed before scientists’ research. However, they had very low levels of anthocyanins.

Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants

Therefore, it was with this variety of tomato that the team of researchers began, who found a way to significantly increase this figure. To do this, they took two genes present in the snapdragon, a plant also called “cleft palate”. They modified purple tomatoes to include these genes. Then they managed to get a tomato with a very high content of anthocyanins.

They then ran tests on lab mice with cancer. Mice fed a diet based on these tomatoes had a 30% increase in lifespan compared to others. The results that prompted scientists to continue their research. For example, they provide for the production of tomato juice for therapeutic use.

However, the first step remains to market this new GM tomato variety and market it. A long regulatory process that has recently reached a key point. “This is fantastic, I never thought I would live to see this day. Now we are one step closer to my dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with so many people who enjoy eating them,” Cathy Martin enthused in a statement from the John Innes Center.

Indeed, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just issued the first positive opinion on the cultivation of these purple tomatoes in the United States. “In terms of pest risk, this plant can be safely grown and used in breeding in the United States,” the institution said in a statement. Scientists hope this is the first step that will quickly lead to a permit. They would like to start commercialization in 2023 and also obtain accreditation for commercialization in the UK, which they have not been granted.

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