The USDA or United States Department of Agriculture just approved a whole new kind of genetically modified tomato after a development period exceeding 10 years. The tomato in question has a purple color and was designed to produce 10 times more antioxidants than existing varieties.
It all started in 2008 with the publication of a study in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The research described in the article involves a type of genetically modified tomato that can produce large amounts of anthocyanins. These latter are antioxidants and are naturally present in vegetable products such as cabbage or blueberries. They give their purple color to these products.
Studies have shown that anthocyanins have some health benefits. For example, they reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
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Anthocyanins are present in small amounts in certain types of tomatoes with naturally purple skin. Scientists then wondered if these levels could be artificially increased. So they have took two genes from another plant, snapdragonfor the inject into a type of purple tomato. The added genes have enhanced the plant’s ability to produce anthocyanins. Purple tomatoes were the product of this manipulation.
During the study, researchers tested the health benefits of purple tomatoes. They did the tests on mice engineered to develop cancer. According to the results, mice whose food contained purple tomatoes lived 30% longer than mice fed a regular diet.
Thus, after going through all the legal steps, the purple tomato will soon be able to be put on the market after the agreement of APHIS or Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service from the USDA. This authorization means that the genetically modified plant is no longer subject to strict controls limiting where and when they are grown. They can now be grown anywhere in the United States.
Over the past few years, the scientists behind the purple tomato have been trying to find possible applications. At first they focused on juice production which could be tested in a clinical context on patients with cancer or cardiovascular disease.
However, this type of production requires going through numerous tests and obtaining numerous legal authorizations before arriving on the market. So the scientists decided to start with sell seeds for those who wish to plant them at home.
Anyway, the United States is now the first country in the world to authorize the cultivation of this genetically modified product. The researchers hope that their tomato may also be allowed in the UK.