Enter the tomato

By | Science & Technology
Could GM tomatoes reach the supermarket? @credit tropicalfloridagardens.com

British research seemed to recently taken a step towards putting genetically modified food onto supermarket shelves. More specifically: putting purple tomatoes on shelves. Tomatoes may already be a healthy source of vitamins and minerals, however, research at the John Innes Centre in Norwich has allowed for the creation of a tomato which may have the same anti-oxidant based advantages of fruits like blueberries. The purple pigment (anthocyanin) in these tomatoes seem to be the result of a gene transfer from the snapdragon plant.

These enhanced tomatoes might also potentially improve the nutritional value of many derivative products, from pizza topping to ketchup. Professor Cathie Martin, of the John Innes Centre, is a firm believer in the potential benefits that these new fruits could deliver. “With these purple tomatoes you may get the same compounds which are present in blueberries and cranberries which give them their health benefits […] you may apply them to foods people actually eat in significant amounts and are reasonably affordable,” she remarked.

Canada has played an important role in this innovation, as well the British research. Because Canada seems more permissive of GM product development, Prof Martin outsourced production of these purple tomatoes to an Ontario-based company: New Energy Farms. She is supportive of the “enlightened” stance Canada takes to GM ideas: “They look at the trait, [rather than] the technology, and should be a way we start changing our thinking – asking if what you’re doing is safe and beneficial.”

Regarding the differences between European and Canadian attitudes to GM food, Prof Martin said it was inconvenient “we’ve had to go to Canada to do a lot of the growing and the processing and I hope this may serve as a vanguard product where people may have access to something which is GM however has benefits for them.” Obvious reasons to limit development of GM food in this country are in short supply.

The juice produced from these tomatoes may likely to be used to determine whether there are any beneficial health effects for humans from ingesting anthocyanin. The compound has previously been found to have an anti-inflammatory effect in mice, and even reduced rates of specific types of mice cancer. If any benefits are able to be proven, Prof Martin and other plant researchers are aimful this development might create a more innovative attitude towards genetic modification of plants in the EU.

How might productive health benefits influence public opinion on GM foods in the UK?

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